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Bulger killer is charged with child porn offences

Jon Venables, one of the killers of the toddler James Bulger, has been charged with downloading and distributing indecent images of children.

Venables is accused of downloading on to his computer 57 indecent photos of youngsters between February last year and February this year. He is also charged with distributing seven indecent images of children.

His case will next come before London's Old Bailey court on July 23 when Venables, who is currently in custody, may enter a plea via videolink.

Venables and Robert Thompson were jailed for life for the murder in 1993 of two-year-old James, who was led away from a shopping centre in Liverpool by the then 10-year-olds.

They were released on licence in 2001, but Venables was recalled to prison in February this year after the new allegations.

The new charges against him could not be reported until yesterday when Mr Justice Bean, sitting at the Old Bailey, ruled that some of the reporting restrictions applied for by England's Director of Public Prosecutions in May could be lifted. Prosecutor Gavin Millar read out the indictment, which would normally have been heard at a magistrates' court.

However, because the prosecution was lodged by the less usual route of a "voluntary bill of indictment", yesterday's hearing was the first opportunity for them to be read. "A man once known as Jon Venables has been charged with two offences," Mr Millar said.

The first charge, under the Protection of Children Act 1978, related to the downloading of 57 indecent images on to Venables's own computer.



Identities

The second related to downloading images using "peer to peer" software on his computer, "exposing the images for acquisition for a finite period" to other users who could look for certain files. Mr Millar added that there was no evidence that anybody had actually downloaded the material.

Venables and Thompson were given new identities, which cannot be revealed, when they were released from jail. If found guilty, Venables would serve the sentence imposed for possessing indecent images before he could be considered for release again.

Robin Makin, a solicitor for James Bulger's father Ralph and his family, suggested that charging Venables over indecent images of children raised the question of possible sexual elements in James's murder -- details that, he said, were deliberately suppressed at the time of the trial and were still "not for public consumption".

He criticised the authorities for failing to support the Bulger family since the announcement on March 2 that Venables had been recalled to prison.

The Bulgers have repeatedly called for Venables's identity and whereabouts -- and the details of the charges against him -- to be published.

Mr Makin revealed that he had requested meetings with the new Justice Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General to discuss the case.

"It is hoped that steps will be taken now to make good the deficiencies in the public authorities to date . . . as a matter of compassion and decency," he said.

Denise Fergus, James Bulger's mother, said that she welcomed the decision to lift some of the secrecy surrounding the new charges.

hnews@herald.ie


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