'Exceptional' ruling gags media permanently

Child killer Mary Bell and her teenage daughter have won a permanent gag preventing the press revealing anything that would identify them. The gag is aimed at protecting them from harassment and attack.

President of the High Court’s family division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, ruled that they can never be identified.

She said the granting of such orders should be “exceptional” and warned that her ruling was not to be taken to be a broadening of the principles of the law of confidence. But she considered that in this case the circumstances were sufficiently exceptional to justify the order sought.

She said she had taken into account, among other things, Bell’s age at the time of the killings, findings that she had suffered an abusive childhood, the length of time that has passed since the offences, the need for her rehabilitation into society, the serious risk of potential harassment, vilification and ostracism and the possibility of physical harm, her present mental state and concerns for the welfare of her daughter.

Bell, who was convicted when just 11-years-old of the manslaughter of Martin Brown, four, and Brian Howe, three, was detained until she was released on licence when she was 23.

She has been given a new identity and has lived in anonymity with her own daughter, who is now 18, both of them protected from being identified by wide-ranging court orders which were aimed at giving the daughter anonymity until her 18th birthday.

These orders were temporarily extended pending the outcome of these proceedings, in which lawyers for both had asked the court to extend the injunction indefinitely.

By Roger Pearson

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