Draconian restrictions may not save the pair from vigilantes

It took eight hours for the first details of where James Bulger's killers were spending their first days of freedom to reach a newspaper website.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, acted with even greater speed to declare he was considering as a "matter of urgency" whether the Manchester Evening News should face prosecution for breach of the injunction against identification of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. But the ease with which a supposedly draconian judicial order had apparently been ignored may well be a sign of what the future holds.

The probation service is already resigned to the fact that the huge attention the release has generated will make it impossible to prevent vigilante groups taking revenge on the two boys who tortured and killed a toddler.

A Sunday tabloid is understood to be planning to publish artificially "aged" photographs of the two boys, an action condemned yesterday by the Attorney General's office.

Thompson and Venables will be forced to spend the rest of their lives censoring their own actions and words so they do not let slip they are James Bulger's killers. They will also be under close scrutiny by probation officers and could be returned to prison if they break the law.They will not be able to return to Merseyside, where the murder took place, without permission from the authorities.

There are parallels between their case and that of Mary Bell who was released before her 23rd birthday after serving nearly 11 years for killing two young boys. Under a new identity, she reached the age of 40 before being tracked down by newspapers.

Other countries do not experience the same hysteria as Britain over the treatment of child killers. In 1994, the case of three six-year-old boys in Norway who kicked to death a young girl received little public attention.

The criminal age of responsibility in England and Wales is 10 – lower than in 29 other states. The United Kingdom sends more people under the age of 21 to prison than any other EU state.

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