February 25, 2013 6:50 pm

Legal action over online Bulger photos

Twitter users who circulated photographs claiming to show the grown-up killers of toddler James Bulger will be prosecuted for contempt of court, the attorney-general has warned.

James Bulger was abducted and murdered by a pair of 10-year-olds near Liverpool two decades ago. His killers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, are now in their 30s and are protected by an injunction that prevents publication of any information purporting to identify them.

Originally aimed at newspapers and television broadcasters, the injunction is now being tested in an age when anyone can easily publish information on the internet, through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

A photo purporting to show one of the grown-up killers was uploaded to Twitter this month and subsequently re-posted hundreds of times. While that picture has since been taken down, the attorney-general said on Monday that there are still many different images online claiming to be of Mr Venables or Mr Thompson.

“Potentially innocent individuals may be wrongly identified as being one of the two men and placed in danger,” said Dominic Grieve. Breaches of the injunction are punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

The prosecution of Twitter users for contempt of court is the latest of a fast-growing number of cases in which people have fallen foul of the law through using social media sites.

Last year, Lord McAlpine, a former Conservative politician, took legal action against Twitter users who falsely linked him to child abuse allegations

“Gone are the days when people could say whatever they wanted on Twitter without caring about the consequences,” said Niri Shan, head of media at the law firm Taylor Wessing.

The number of people charged with crimes involving social media has increased eight-fold over the past four years, according to British police figures.

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