Woolf: I did not release Bulger's murderers

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The Independent Online

The Lord Chief Justice stepped into the storm over the early release of the killers of James Bulger by saying yesterday it was not his decision that finally set them free.

In an unprecedented move, Lord Woolf issued a statement rebutting suggestions in the media that he was responsible for the return to society of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. It was the Home Secretary who shouldered that responsibility, Lord Woolf said.

He said that while it was his job to set the tariff, the minimum time a convicted defendant should spend in prison, it was up to the Home Secretary, on the advice of the Parole Board, to decide when they should be set free.

He explained: "It is my task to review the tariffs of defendants found guilty of murder who were under 18 years of age when they committed the offence and who are therefore ordered to be detained during Her Majesty's Pleasure. I review each application on its individual merit." He added: "It is the minimum amount of time a detainee must serve before the Parole Board may consider the case. I do this after the papers are received from the Prison Service."

He accused the media of "misleading reporting" in suggesting that this meant he had ordered their release.

In a separate development yesterday, the Attorney General wrote to the Manchester Evening News demanding an explanation for what he believes to be a breach of an injunction protecting the identities of Venables and Thompson.

A spokesman for Lord Goldsmith said in the department's opinion an article that appeared in the newspaper on Friday did break a High Court injunction designed to guard the safety of the two 18-year-olds. The spokesman said: "We have decided to go ahead and ask them for legal representations as to why ... they breached the injunction."

The article, which was also on the newspaper's website, did not name the whereabouts of Thompson and Venables but may have enabled readers to deduce them. Meetings were held at the newspaper to discuss how the facts at issue came to be published. If the Attorney General is not satisfied by the newspaper's explanation, he could refer the case to the High Court for prosecution for contempt of court.