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Custodial sentences passed for breaching anonymity injunction

Attorney General v Tina Malone, Divisional Court, 13 March [2019] 3 WLUK 255

Attorney General v Richard Mckeag and Natalie Barker, Divisional Court, 31 January 2019 [2019] 1 WLUK 332,

Three individuals admitted contempt of court for publishing information about Thompson and Venables in breach of an injunction. The injunction, binding worldwide, prohibits the publication of anything revealing the identities and/or locations of the two individuals convicted as children of the murder of James Bulger in 1993. The court suspended each of the three custodial sentences due to strong personal mitigation, principally related to mental and physical health and child care responsibilities.

Details

The Attorney General applied to commit the defendants to prison for contempt of court for publishing information purporting to identify Venables in breach of a longstanding injunction.The first respondent authored and published an article on his website said to be of Venables and purported to reveal his identity and place of work. The post acknowledged the injunction and encouraged people to share. The second respondent posted a collection of pictures via her Twitter said to be of Venables and his fiancé and sought information about the whereabouts of Thompson. The information was retweeted multiple times, and she continued despite receiving warnings from Twitter and the police. The third case (Malone) involved posting a photograph on social media alleging it was one of Bulger’s killers. The respondents did not know one another.

The court said that had it not been for their personal circumstances, the defendants would have been sent to prison for their serious breaches. In sentencing, the court had regard to the guidelines for breach offences (although not directly applicable) and considered Amicus Horizon Ltd v Thorley 1 and Doey v Islington LBC 2. All were said to have committed ‘serious’ breaches that warranted prison. In mitigation, the respondents’ mental and physical health were referred to as were their caring responsibilities and their remorse. The respondents were sentenced to 12 months and 8 months respectively, all suspended for 2 years.

Commentary

The  courts only very rarely preserve the anonymity of those who commit offences as children for life. Sometimes their anonymity is not preserved at all or if it is that anonymity expires once they turn 18.   As a result, changing their names and obtaining injunctions preventing identification is the only way they can live anonymously. Public hatred towards those who have committed offences as children can be considerable, resulting in a  real risk of life if identified. As a result, breaches of these injunctions must be taken seriously.

  1. [2012] EWCA Civ 817  (back)
  2. [2012] EWCA Civ 1825  (back)