Vigilantes could murder Venables, says judge

Baroness Butler-Sloss backs refusal by Jack Straw to reveal more details of allegations against Bulger killer
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The Independent Online

Jon Venables could be murdered by vengeful vigilantes if his new identity is revealed, the judge who granted his anonymity warned last night.

Baroness Butler-Sloss spoke out after Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, defended the need for secrecy over the reasons that James Bulger's killer has been ordered back into custody.

As the president of the High Court's family division, Lady Butler-Sloss approved the decision to give Venables a fresh identity upon his release nine years ago. Speaking in the Lords, she stressed "the enormous importance of protecting his anonymity now and if he is released because those who wanted to kill him in 2001 are likely to be out there now".

Earlier Mr Straw warned that any proposed prosecution of Venables could be jeopardised by the massive coverage of alleged reasons for his recall. He failed to win a court injunction last week against The Sun over allegations about Venables, and is also fiercely critical of a report in the Sunday Mirror that he was being investigated over child pornography allegations. In an emergency Commons statement, Mr Straw said he had decided it was "not in the interests of justice" to release more details about Venables's detention.

He later confirmed, however, that the 27-year-old was not accused of an offence that had resulted in death or serious injury. Mr Straw is now expected to meet James Bulger's mother, Denise Fergus, within the next two days.

But in a television interview yesterday, Ms Fergus demanded immediate answers to her questions about Venables. Speaking on ITV's This Morning, she said of last week's revelation of his prison recall: "I have been very emotional. I don't know what he has done. I don't know whether he has gone on to kill someone else. I have had sleepless nights and I am not eating again.

"It is just one massive rollercoaster again for me. And I can't believe that they are putting me through this."

Mr Straw told MPs that the Ministry of Justice was warned two weeks ago that Venables's new identity had been "compromised". Later it emerged he could have committed an "extremely serious" breach of the conditions of his release on licence. He said he had considered releasing more information about the allegations against Venables, but added: "I have concluded this would not presently be in the interests of justice. It is critical that if charges do follow, it is possible to hold a fair trial – fair for the defence and fair for the prosecution."

Mr Straw said he had been advised both by the police and by the Director of Public Prosecutions that "premature disclosure of information could undermine the integrity of the criminal justice process".

The Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, chairman of the Commons justice select committee, said: "There are many cases in which newspapers, if they are not careful, do actually make it more difficult or maybe impossible to convict guilty people." Mr Straw replied: "That is something I think newspaper editors need to reflect on, that the consequences of coverage ... may be the opposite of that which they intend."

Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10 at the time, snatched James from the Strand shopping centre in Bootle, Liverpool, in 1993. They walked him more than two miles to a railway line where they beat him to death and left his body on the tracks to be hit by a train.

The pair were released on life licence in 2001. Since news broke last week of Venables's parole breach, numerous allegations have surfaced including that he had returned to Merseyside.