Bulger killer Jon Venables faces child porn charges

Police handout in 1993 of Jon Venables Jon Venables was given a new identity on his release from prison

One of the two killers of Merseyside toddler James Bulger has been charged with possession and distribution of indecent images of children.

Jon Venables, who killed James in 1993, was released from jail in 2001 and given a new identity and anonymity for life under a special court order.

But Venables, now 27, was recalled to prison in February after allegedly breaching the terms of his licence.

He is charged with two offences under the 1978 Protection of Children Act.

Early stage

It is alleged that he downloaded 57 indecent images of children between February 2009 and February 2010.

He is secondly accused of distributing seven images between 1 and 23 February this year by allowing files on his computer to be available through a peer-to-peer network. Gavin Millar QC, for the Crown, told the judge that there was no evidence that anyone else had acquired the files through that route.

The case is at a very early stage and will return to court on 23 July. That hearing will be the first opportunity for Venables to indicate whether he will be pleading guilty or not guilty to the alleged offences.

The Bulger family lawyer says there is "relief" Venables has been charged

Were he to plead not guilty, he would appear before a jury under his new name. If he pleads guilty, the case will move to sentencing before a judge.

Under the terms of Venables' anonymity order, the media is not allowed to report anything about his new identity and a jury would never know who he really is

Mother's concerns

In March, the then Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced that Venables had been returned to prison but said that it was not in the interests of a fair trial to publicise what had allegedly happened.

Denise Fergus, James's mother, had called for the reason for the recall to be made public, saying as his mother she had "a right to know".

In a statement, read by her spokesman on her behalf on Monday, she said: "It is right that the charges he faces should be made public.

"I have been kept informed to an extent about the legal proceedings in the case over the past few months through the Ministry of Justice, the Merseyside Probation Service and more recently by senior officers from Merseyside police."

She said her solicitor had also been in contact with the ministry about concerns she had over the "way the case is going to be handled".

"We are still awaiting a reply to that formal approach. I am prepared to wait and see what happens. I simply want to see justice done in this case and I don't want to say anything that could affect the proceedings," the statement said.

'Disaster'

Speaking outside court on Monday, Robin Makin, solicitor for James's father Ralph, attacked the Ministry of Justice for the way it had handled the case ever since Venables' recall.

"We consider that the way this has been handled since news of Jon Venables being recalled to custody has been a disaster," he said.

"The public authorities ought to behave quite differently and in due course further details are likely to emerge of the mistakes that were made. Ineptitude and incompetence spring to mind."

Venables and his friend Robert Thompson were jailed for life when, as 10-year-olds, they took two-year-old James from a shopping centre in Bootle.

The toddler's body was found on a disused railway line more than two miles away from where he had been taken.

Venables and Thompson were given new identities on their release from prison in 2001 because of the risk that they would be victims of a vigilante attack.

Media law expert Mark Stephens insisted despite the publicity it was "almost certain" that Venables could get a fair trial.

He said: "The judge has gone to extraordinary lengths, as has the prosecution. They have worked with the defence to make sure that a fair trial can happen and that justice will out at the end of the day."

However, BBC legal affairs analyst Clive Coleman says if the case goes to trial, it will be a very difficult one for the authorities to manage.

Defence lawyers could argue there was an "abuse of process" because of the publicity surrounding the case. They would tell the judge that a jury would be able to identify the defendant, and the notoriety of James' Bulger's murder would mean Venables would not be able to get a fair trial, he said.

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