Sunderland man sentenced for identifying James Bulger killers on Twitter

editorial image
Have your say

A SUNDERLAND man who published photographs on Twitter said to show the killers of James Bulger has admitted being in contempt of court.

Dean Liddle, of Sunderland and Neil Harkins, of Bridlington, East Yorkshire, posted images purporting to show the pair as adults

The pair were given nine-month terms, suspended for 15 months, after action by Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

Liddle, a graphic designer, put photos on Twitter in February this year, two days after the 20th anniversary of the toddler’s murder, which purported to depict Jon Venables and Robert Thompson as adults.

Sir John Thomas, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, and Mr Justice Tugendhat said that Liddle and Harkins – who put pictures on Facebook – knew what they were doing was wrong and it was no excuse that others were doing it

The pair admitted breaching a January 2001 injunction, binding on the whole world, imposed before Venables and Thompson were released, which prohibits the solicitation or publication of any information purporting to identify their physical appearance, whereabouts, movements or new identities.

Mr Grieve said the public interest required its enforcement to mitigate the “very real risk of serious physical harm or death” to anyone who might be identified, whether correctly or incorrectly, as being either of the killers.

The Attorney General said after the ruling: “An internet posting takes seconds but can have major consequences.

“These people were fully aware that there is an injunction in place which prevents publication of any images or information claiming to identify anyone as Jon Venables or Robert Thompson, yet they carried on.

“It has been in place for many years and applies to both media organisations and individuals.

“It is irrelevant whether the postings in this case were of who they claimed to be.

“The order is meant not only to protect Venables and Thompson but also those members of the public who have been incorrectly identified as being either of them.”

Harkins said “no comment” as he left the Royal Courts of Justice.

Liddle said: “I am just going to go home and see my son.”

Sir John said that Harkins, a 35-year-old househusband, and Liddle, 28, a graphic designer, had both removed the offending pictures very quickly and apologised.

He added that a fine would be wholly inappropriate to the gravity of what was a serious contempt and an unprecedented case.

He said it was plain that both knew of the prohibition on publication although they may not have known the full extent of the consequences of what they were doing.

“They became part of an determined Internet campaign on the 20th anniversary of James Bulger’s death. They joined in that campaign and we cannot accept it is in any way exculpatory that others were doing it.

“In the view of the court, their conduct has to be judged on the basis that they knew what they were doing was wrong, and it was no excuse that others were doing it.”

He said that the penalty had to make clear the determination of the court to protect the potentially numerous people at risk and the importance of upholding the rule of law.

“It is important to emphasise that no-one could or should contemplate taking the law into their own hands by encouraging the punishment of an offender by others which is not the punishment he has received in the courts.

“Vigilantism has no place in a civilised country and it is for the purpose of deterring such conduct that we must have particular regard.

“The social media can reach many people as this case shows, and therefore the conduct of anyone publishing such information, whether it be on social media or elsewhere on the Internet, has that very serious consequence.”