An internal investigation was under way today following the publication of police ‘‘mugshots’’ of James Bulger’s schoolboy killers on the day they were charged.
Pictures of a frightened looking Robert Thompson and a nervous Jon Venables holding identification placards were first shown on a Channel 4 Despatches programme entitled ‘‘Unforgiven’’ last week.
They have since been published in a number of newspapers.
Grahame Barker, Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, said an internal inquiry had been launched to find out who had released the photographs.
In a statement Mr Barker said: ‘‘The photographs were not officially released by Merseyside Police and an internal inquiry has been launched to find out how they were released.’’
Until the programme, the only published images of the pair had been grainy CCTV pictures of them abducting James from a Merseyside shopping centre, home videos from school functions and school photographs.
The mugshots were taken shortly after the 10-year-olds were arrested for the murder of two-year-old James in February 1993.
They abducted him from The Strand shopping centre in Bootle and dragged him for several miles before battering him to death and leaving his broken body on a railway line.
Tomorrow Venables will meet a parole board which could order his release from custody.
Thompson will attend a separate meeting on Wednesday and is also expected to be released in the near future.
The two killers, who are both 19 in August, have spent their entire detention period in local authority-run secure accommodation. It is likely they will be released into a halfway house rather than given full freedom immediately.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf effectively ended the boys’ tariff - the minimum period they must spend in custody - last October.
He ruled that it would not be beneficial for the boys to spend time in the ‘‘corrosive atmosphere’’ of an adult prison.
The teenagers were also granted an open-ended High Court injunction protecting their anonymity when they are freed from detention with new identities.
Family Division President Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss said she was convinced their lives would be at risk if their identities and whereabouts were disclosed.
She said she was ‘‘compelled’’ to take steps to protect them, even though they were now adults.
Parole Board spokeswoman Ann Barker said she was not able to discuss the cases as the board is ‘‘abiding by the spirit and the letter of the injunction’’.
Legislation says the panel members - which will comprise a judge, a psychiatrist and an independent member - must consider whether it is ‘‘no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the offender continues to be detained’’.
Parole Board members and solicitors for the boys and for the Home Secretary will be able to ask Venables and Thompson questions during the hearing.
Panel members will see psychiatric and other reports from the trial and up-to-date reports from doctors and criminologists.
They will also review the killers’ school records and consider any further offending that may have taken place during their detention.
Speaking in general terms, rather than about this week’s high-profile sessions, Mrs Barker said: ‘‘If the panel is satisfied that the risk is minimal and that it can be managed by the Probation Service under the strict terms of a life licence, they will direct release.
‘‘There is absolutely no rule as to how long that can take - it can be anything from days to months.’’
But authorities are supposed to make sure release takes place as soon as possible.
If the panel assesses the risk as too high they have to write to the offender within seven days giving their reasons. The Home Secretary then decides what happens next to the prisoner.
Dee Warner, of pressure group Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, said protesters will hold a demonstration outside the Parole Board’s London headquarters tomorrow.
The families of murder victims will be among the crowd, but James’s parents, Ralph Bulger and Denise Fergus, are not expected to attend.
Ms Warner said: ‘‘Is there an expert panel that is going to give us a 100% guarantee that they will never commit another offence like that?
‘‘Is anyone going to be held accountable if they do commit a new offence?’’
Solicitors for both killers refused to discuss the parole hearings.