Judge: Torture boys' anonymity does not impair justice

The judge that presided over the case of brothers who tortured two young boys rejected an application to lift reporting restrictions ruling that transparency of the criminal process was not compromised by their remaining anonymous.

Justice Keith, sitting at Sheffield Crown Court on Friday, rejected an application from the victims’ parents and a local newspaper for restrictions banning the identification of the attackers to be lifted.

The judge said the applications were opposed by the defendants, the secure units in which they were being held, South Yorkshire Police and Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council.

Following the sentencing of the two brothers, now aged 11 and 12, Justice Keith discussed the widespread publicity the case had attracted, saying it was reported “extensively” in national and local media.

“The case has been regarded as raising important issues about the way children from dysfunctional families can go off the rails and about the lack of intervention at critical stages by the local authority social services department and other child protection agencies,” he said.

The parents and newspaper which applied for the anonymity orders to be lifted argued that identifying the boys would send an important message to other youngsters and act as a deterrent.

Justice Keith said: “I recognise, of course, the public has a legitimate interest in knowing what takes place in court and the outcome of criminal proceedings but understanding of what (the brothers) did and why they did it, or what effect it had on their victims, or the other issues about children who have begun to exhibit anti-social behaviour, or when social services or child protection agencies should intervene, is not affected one way or the other by (the brothers’) identity being maintained or their identities being known.

“Indeed, it’s difficult to see how the transparency of the criminal process is compromised by (the brothers’) identity not being known.

‘Who (the brothers) are may be a matter of interest to the public but it’s questionable whether their identities really are a matter of public interest.”

He added that he doubted whether the question of loss of anonymity would occur to potential young offenders before they committed a serious offence.

Allowing the defendants to be identified could lead to a number of consequences, he said.

These included the risk that they could be “ostracised or harmed” by other inmates in their secure units; the possibility that their whereabouts could be disclosed to the media for payment; the possibility that the parents of other inmates would ask for their sons to be removed, causing pressures on finances and availability of places in units; the risk of units themselves bring subjected to anonymous threats; campaigns by local communities in the vicinity of the units for the brothers’ removal; and damage to the units’ relationships with their local communities.

The judge said naming the boys would also lead to problems for their family, who would be “likely to be subject to intrusive media interest”, adding that the family had already been relocated twice for their own safety at “not insignificant” cost.

It was also believed that identifying the brothers would have an “adverse impact on any incentive they might have to progress their rehabilitation”, Justice Keith said.

Justice Keith also spoke of the possibility of having to give the brothers new identities on their release, as was the case with Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who abducted and murdered two-year-old James Bulger in 1993, but said this could be “too speculative” to be a consideration.

He concluded: “This is not a case in which the reporting restrictions should be lifted.”

Several media organisations had applied to lift the restrictions after a hearing last year but most later decided against pursuing their applications.

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