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Legal bid to reveal identity of James Bulger’s killer launched today

Battle to unmask Jon Venables: Legal bid to reveal hidden identity of James Bulger’s killer is launched by murdered two-year-old’s father and uncle today

  • Ralph and Jimmy Bulger are challenging High Court anonymity order from 2002 
  • Jon Venables had been given a new identity after he killed toddler James Bulger 
  • But it has been argued his anonymity should be removed due to his re-offending 
  • Killer was jailed this year after he was caught with indecent images of children 

Jon Venables (pictured after the murder) is having his lifelong anonymity order challenged by relatives of James Bulger

The new identity of Jon Venables could soon be unveiled as the father and uncle of murdered toddler James Bulger today launch a legal challenge against an order granting his killer lifelong anonymity.

Ralph and Jimmy Bulger are set to argue against a High Court order issued in 2001 which meant that Venables would be allowed to live the rest of his life under a hidden identity. 

Venables has been living with a new name since his release from a life sentence for the kidnap, torture and murder of two-year-old James in February 1993.

The toddler was killed by Venables and Robert Thompson, both aged 10, after they snatched him from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside.

They were both later granted lifelong anonymity and, following release, have lived under new identities. 

However, solicitor Robin Makin, for the Bulgers, said that the injunction was granted on the basis that Venables was rehabilitated and would not re-offend.

But he had since been convicted twice and sent back to prison over indecent images of children, most recently in February 2018.


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He was jailed for three years and four months after admitting to surfing the dark web for extreme child abuse images and possessing a ‘sickening’ paedophile manual.

He was charged after police found more than 1,000 indecent images on his computer.

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Two-year-old James Bulger (right) was murdered in 1993. His father (left, pictured in 2018) has previously said ‘secret justice is no justice’ in relation to his killer

It was the second time he had been caught with such images and when he was arrested he told police he was plagued by ‘stupid urges’.

James’s mother, Denise Fergus, is not involved in the proceedings and no challenge is being brought against the anonymity granted to Thompson. 

Venables, who has not yet been charged with any offence, and Thompson were both 10-years-old when they shocked Britain by abducting James, then just two-years-old.

The crime made the boys the youngest killers in modern English history and public enemy number one with millions of Brits.

The duo snatched Bulger from outside a butcher’s shop in Bootle, Merseyside, in 1993, while his mother popped into a store for just a few seconds.

The toddler’s mutilated body was found on a railway line in Walton, Liverpool, two days later.


James’ mother Denise Fergus (left) is not involved in the legal challenge, which also does not affect the anonymity order of fellow killer Robert Thompson (right)

Venables and Thompson were found guilty of killing Bulger in November 1993 and were sentenced to custody until they reached 18.

They were freed in 2001 after serving eight years behind bars, but by 2010 Venables was back in prison for violating the terms of his release by possessing child porn.

It was revealed that he had downloaded and distributed more than 100 images of child abuse, some involving victims as young as two being raped.

In one instance he messaged another paedophile claiming to be a married mother who abused her eight-year-old daughter, and offered to sell access to the child.

He was freed from prison for the second time in 2013 after a recommendation from the Parole Board.

At the time, Denise and Ralph Bulger said they were ‘filled with terror’ by the decision to grant parole to Venables.

Timeline: James Bulger’s murder and the conviction of his killers

1993

  • February 12: Two-year-old James Bulger is snatched during a shopping trip to the Strand shopping centre, in Bootle, Merseyside.
  • February 14: The toddler’s battered body is found by children playing on a freight railway line 200 yards from Walton Lane police station, Liverpool, and more than two miles from the Strand shopping centre.
  • February 18: Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10-year-olds, are arrested in connection with the murder of James, and later charged. They are the youngest to be charged with murder in the 20th century.
  • February 22: There are violent scenes outside South Sefton Magistrates’ Court in Bootle, when the two primary school pupils, then known as Child A and Child B, make their first appearance.
  • November 24: Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, now both aged 11, are convicted of James Bulger’s murder following a 17-day trial at Preston Crown Court. They are ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, the normal substitute sentence for life imprisonment when the offender is a juvenile.

1994

  • July: The eight year sentence tariff set by the trial judge, which has already been increased to 10 years by Lord Chief Justice Lord Taylor of Gosforth, is increased again to 15 years by the Home Secretary Michael Howard.

1997

  • June: The Law Lords rule by a majority that Mr Howard has acted illegally in raising the boys’ tariff.

1999

  • March: The European Commission on Human Rights finds that Thompson and Venables were denied a fair trial and fair sentencing by an impartial and independent tribunal.

2000

  • March: Home Secretary Jack Straw says he will not set a date for Thompson and Venables’ release.
  • October: Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf reinstates the trial judge’s original tariff, paving the way for their release.

2001

  • January: James Bulger’s killers win an unprecedented court order from High Court judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss which grants them anonymity for the rest of their lives.
  • June: Thompson and Venables are freed under new identities.

2008

  • September: Venables is arrested on suspicion of affray after he and another man become involved in a drunken street fight. He is given a formal warning by the Probation Service about breaching the good behaviour expected of him as a condition of his licence.
  • Later the same year he is cautioned for possession of cocaine after he was found with a small amount of the class A drug, which was said to be for personal use. The public remained unaware of both offences until 2010.

2010

  • March 2: Venables is returned to prison after breaching the terms of his release, the Ministry of Justice says. It kick-starts frenzied media speculation over the nature of the alleged breach.
  • April 16: Prosecutors handed a police file over the latest allegations.
  • June 21: A judge at the Old Bailey lifts media restrictions, allowing it to be reported that Venables has been charged with downloading and distributing child pornography.
  • July 23: Venables pleads guilty to the charges. He is sentenced to two years in prison. James Bulger’s mother Denise Fergus attacks the length of sentence as ‘simply not enough’.
  • July 30: A judge rules Venables’ new identity must be kept secret because of the ‘compelling evidence’ of a threat to his safety, saying ‘unpopular’ defendants had as much right to protection from retribution as anyone else.

2013

  • July 4: Venables is granted parole.

2017  

  • Venables is in prison again after allegedly being caught with indecent images of children.  

2018 

  • He admits child pornography charges and is jailed for 40 months.

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