Teenage killers given lifelong anonymity

PA High Court staff
·4-min read

Two teenage killers who murdered a vulnerable alcoholic in her own home will have their identities kept secret for life after a High Court judge ruled that naming them would cause the pair “very serious harm”.

The girls were aged 13 and 14 when they put 39-year-old Angela Wrightson through a five-hour ordeal in Hartlepool in 2014, while posing for Snapchat selfies.

In a judgment published on Thursday, Mrs Justice Tipples granted the pair lifelong anonymity, an order that has previously been made in only a handful of cases in these circumstances, including that of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, the killers of toddler James Bulger.

The two young women were handed life sentences at Leeds Crown Court in 2016 and told they must serve a minimum of 15 years behind bars.

At the end of the trial, judge Mr Justice Globe refused to lift reporting restrictions preventing the media from identifying the killers.

Their anonymity automatically expired when they turned 18, leading their lawyers to ask the High Court in October last year to grant permanent injunctions preventing them from being identified in relation to Ms Wrightson’s murder.

In her judgment, Mrs Justice Tipples said the case had resulted “in public outrage and revulsion, together with public concern about how these two young girls could commit such a brutal murder”.

But the judge concluded that revealing the girls’ identities “is likely to cause each of them very serious harm”, adding that this was “an exceptional case” in which the balance was “tipped very firmly” in favour of protecting their rights.

“It is both necessary and proportionate to grant the injunctions sought so that both their identities are protected and not revealed,” the judge ruled.

The young women, known as D and F, join killers Venables and Thompson, who murdered two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool in 1993, and Mary Bell, who killed two young children in 1968, in having lifelong anonymity.

Similar orders have also been made in respect of Maxine Carr, the former girlfriend of Soham murderer Ian Huntley who was jailed for giving him a false alibi, the so-called Edlington brothers, who tortured two young boys in South Yorkshire in 2009, and Britain’s then-youngest terrorist, known only as RXG, who instructed an Australian jihadist to launch attacks on Anzac Day in 2015.

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said it was important that the court decision regarding the two girls did not create a precedent and that it was “essential” all cases were considered on an individual basis.

  • Jon Venables and Robert Thompson

  • Mary Bell

  • Maxine Carr

  • So-called Edlington brothers

  • RXG

In her judgment, Mrs Justice Tipples said: “I am quite satisfied that this is a case where there is a real and immediate risk of serious physical harm or death to F at her own hand if her anonymity is not preserved.”

The judge said the other girl was also entitled to an injunction banning her identification as one of the killers, noting that expert psychological evidence had shown that if her identity was revealed it would “significantly increase her risk of self-harm”.

At October’s hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC told Mrs Justice Tipples that both girls suffered from “recognisable mental conditions”, adding that they were “extremely psychologically vulnerable”.

Miss Wrightson, who was known locally as Alco Ange, suffered a horrific and prolonged attack at her home in Stephen Street, Hartlepool, in December 2014.

She was hit with a shovel, a TV, a coffee table and a stick studded with screws after she let the girls into her home.

She was found dead in her blood-spattered living room the next morning.

In response to Thursday’s ruling, Mr Murray said: “What is important is that this decision by the courts to order lifelong anonymity for the perpetrators of such a terrible crime does not create a precedent.

“What is essential is that all cases must be considered on an individual basis if the principles of open justice and providing a deterrent are to be fulfilled.”

Mark Hanna, a senior journalism lecturer and co-author of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists, said the judge had made her decision on anonymity having considered detailed medical evidence about F “which it is hard to argue against”.

Mr Hanna said: “The judge ruled out public identification of the other murderer mainly on the ground that it could lead to F’s public identification too.”

This is an “exceptional” case due to the girls’ age when the murder was committed and other factors, he said.

“It may be that people convicted as older teenagers or when adults of such horrendous crime will in future cite the risk of suicide or self-harm to argue for such anonymity.

“But if such people cannot be identified by the media, fewer details of their crimes and what made them criminals can be published.

“For such anonymity injunctions to become common would not be open justice, and would restrict debate about how crime can be investigated and prevented.”