Could this be what the butler-Sloss foresaw?


Just imagine, if you will, that Lady Justice Butler-Sloss had refused that injunction to stop the media blowing the cover of Thompson and Venables.

Would we have hailed her as a champion of press freedom? And applauded her good sense in trusting to self-restraint?

And would the public (including very many of us) by now be recoiling as half Fleet Street invited readers to finger the fugitives? ("Don’t worry about the cost of the call – our 24-hour hotline will ring you back.")

Would packs of newshounds be hunting the quarry up motorways and down country lanes? Would editors be instructing them to procure exclusives at any price? (And shrugging off the prospect of a rap down the line from the Press Complaints Commission?)

Would we be wincing at TV clips of journalists laying siege to houses where Thompson or Venables (or some poor lad believed to be either) might be seeking refuge? Storming supermarkets where a bounty-hunter had set off a hue and cry?

Would reporters be searching trains for terrified runaways? Would snappers be smuggling concealed cameras to torchlight lynchings? Would TV crews be recording spectacular suicide in the face of baying vigilantes?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. All we know for sure is that, once the Parole Board wisely or unwisely decided on licensed release, the High Court was bound to shield the pair from predictably destructive attention.

The basic instinct to reveal and the commercial imperative to compete impel newspapers to garner information about the pair, at least against the day when a rival (or Thompson or Venables) drives a coach and horses through the lifetime embargo.

The News of the World is as frank about its intentions as it was when plunging into its naming-and-shaming campaign:

"Though we will NOT breach the injunction, we WILL monitor this evil pair closely. Whether they are at college, with girlfriends, perhaps working with unwitting colleagues, we shall do all in our power to watch over them. And at the very first hint of a breach of their parole licences, we shall do everything legally possible to tell you, our readers, exactly what is going on."

In reality, from the moment Butler-Sloss pronounced, there has been nothing to stop any editor going to the High Court to argue for variation in such circumstances.

So what a pity it would be if some defiant tally-ho were to lead to the injunction being expanded into even more daunting a precedent.

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