Paper fined £30,000 for breaching court order protecting Bulger killers

 

The Manchester Evening News has been found guilty of contempt of court over an article breaching an injunction protecting the location of Jamie Bulger's killers.

The President of the Family Division at the High Court, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, yesterday fined the newspaper's publisher, Greater Manchester Newspapers Ltd (GMNL), £30,000 and ordered it to pay £120,000 in costs for breaching her order protecting the identities of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

The article appeared in the newspaper's second edition and an associated website on June 22nd, the day the parole board cleared the way for Thompson and Venables's release, despite careful preparations to avoid breaching the injunction.

But although Dame Elizabeth accepted it was not an intentional breach of the injunction, the publication of the article was nonetheless "a lamentable failure of editorial control" and could not be overlooked. "Any breach could have disastrous consequences - and I don't use those words lightly. It was very fortunate that no harm came from the revealing of the information in the Manchester Evening News article. The physical safety and even the lives of the two young men depend on meticulous arrangements made by the press to avoid a breach, which did in fact occur," she added.

Thompson and Venables were granted an injunction protecting their identities in January when it became clear that as their release date approached they could become the victims of revenge attacks. After spending more than eight years in secure units for the abduction and murder of two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool, they have both been given new identities.

In a statement, GMNL said it supported the judge's original order granting anonymity and stressed the breach of the injunction was not deliberate. However, it was advised there were "substantial grounds" for an appeal and would consider challenging the ruling. Counsel for the Manchester Evening News, Mr Desmond Browne QC, said it was accepted that a "grave error of judgment" had been made by a member of the newspaper's staff.

The editor, Mr Paul Horrocks, was on a day's leave on June 22nd and believed he had installed a system to avoid breaching the injunction.

However, a news editor disregarded Mr Horrocks's instructions. As a result of the breach, the news editor was demoted, five individuals were disciplined and 84 journalists sent on a legal refresher course.