Bulger killer charged with child porn offence

JON VENABLES, one of the killers of toddler James Bulger, has been charged with downloading and distributing child pornography, it emerged yesterday.

Venables is accused of downloading onto his computer 57 indecent photographs of youngsters between February last year and February this year.

He is also charged with distributing seven indecent images of children between February 1 and 23 this year.

Venables and Robert Thompson were jailed for life for the 1993 murder of two-year-old James, who was led away from a shopping centre in Liverpool by the then 10-year-olds. They were jailed for life, but released on licence in 2001.

Venables was recalled to prison in February following the new allegations, but the criminal charges could not be reported until now after a judge at the Old Bailey yesterday lifted some reporting restrictions.

Venables, 27, is due to face a plea and case management hearing on July 23 when he is expected to appear by prison videolink.

Gavin Millar QC, for Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, told Mr Justice Bean he would read the charges out for the record.

He said: “A man known as Jon Venables has been charged with two offences.”

He said the photographs in the first charge were listed in a schedule.

The second charge related to distributing images through the internet.

He added: “The Crown’s case against Mr Venables is that seven images of children were downloaded by him between these dates.

“The use and availability of peer-to-peer software on his computer to download made it possible for – in effect, exposed for acquisition for a finite period – other internet users to search for photographs to download.

“There is no evidence that anybody did acquire them by that route.”

The injunction was imposed by Mr Justice Bean last month.

Venables and Thompson were given new identities, which cannot be revealed, when they were released from jail.

The hearing on July 23 will be Venables’ first opportunity to indicate what plea he will be entering to the charges.

Were he to plead not guilty, he would eventually appear before a jury under his new name. But court proceedings are most likely to be the subject of unprecedented reporting restrictions to protect his new identity.

If he pleads guilty, the case will quickly move to sentencing.

The British government faced growing calls in March to disclose more details about the return to prison of Venables after breaching the conditions of his release.

Even James’s mother, Denise Fergus, was not initially told why Venables was back behind bars.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw defended the decision, saying the secrecy was in the public interest.

Straw said keeping the material secret was “genuinely in the public interest”.

“For very good reasons, we have had to keep restricted details as to why Mr Venables has been recalled,” he said.

Ms Fergus welcomed the news as it broke in March, writing a post on the website Twitter that Venables was “where he belongs tonight – behind bars”.

Venables and Thompson snatched James from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, and killed him on a railway line on February 13, 1993.

The toddler’s battered body was found by children 180 metres from a police station.

They were given life sentences for the killing, but were controversially released after eight years in prison.

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