Tina Malone's relief as she avoids jail over James Bulger killer Facebook post
Actress Tina Malone’s lawyers said she was “very happy” to be going home after she avoided jail for sharing a Facebook post said to unmask James Bulger killer Jon Venables.
The Shameless star admitted breaching a worldwide ban on publishing anything that purportedly reveals the new identity of Venables.
She initially contested the contempt proceedings, brought by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC, but accepted during a hearing at the High Court on Wednesday that she was aware of the order and had breached it.
Malone was handed an eight-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay £10,000 towards the costs of the case.
Speaking after the ruling, her solicitor Mark Manley said: “She’s naturally very happy that this matter is now concluded and that she is able to go home to her family this evening.
“She’s obviously very sorry to have found herself in this position.”
An injunction was made “against the world” in 2001, which bans the publication of anything that purports to reveal the identities of Venables and Robert Thompson.
They have been living anonymously with new identities since being released from a life sentence for the kidnap, torture and murder of James in 1993, when they were aged 10.
Lawyers for the Attorney General said the injunction was designed to protect the pair from the “exceptional risk” they face.
The court heard Malone, of Liverpool, shared a Facebook post that included a photograph purporting to be of Venables and his current name in February last year.
She told the court she is an ambassador for the James Bulger Memorial Trust, which helps disadvantaged young people, and had raised £10,000 for the charity on TV quiz show The Chase.
The 56-year-old became emotional as she said she has bipolar disorder and had suffered a breakdown shortly before sharing the post.
She said she’d had the “worst two years” of her life and was “erratic” when she told a journalist, who contacted her about the post, that she thought Venables and Thompson should be “wiped off the face of the earth”.
She told the court the post was deleted when her mother “went ballistic” after hearing about it following the press coverage.
Malone, who arrived at court wearing a leopard-print fur coat, wept as she said: “Had I known it was wrong I wouldn’t have done it at all.”
She claimed she had no idea whether she had received a letter from the Attorney General’s office in November last year and “nearly passed out” when she got one on January 24.
During cross-examination by Jonathan Hall QC, for the Attorney General, she said she was a “devout Catholic” and did not wish violence on anyone.
She said she didn’t know she was doing anything illegal and thought the post would be “allowed” because it was available online.
When asked if she realised a judge had made an anonymity order in relation to Venables and Thompson, she said: “Yes, of course I knew they had been sentenced and given anonymity, everybody did.”
She also accepted she knew the purpose of the court order was to protect them from harm or from being “run out of town”.
Malone said she was “extremely sorry” for any distress she had caused and asked the court to show “leniency” given her mental state at the time and her genuine remorse.
Adam Speker, for Malone, told the court she was the primary carer for her five-year-old daughter and elderly mother, and was the main breadwinner for her family.
The court also heard she is involved with a number of other charities and runs drama groups for vulnerable young people, which would stop if she went to prison.
Sentencing Malone, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, sitting with Mr Justice Warby, said: “Taking account of everything that we have heard, we order that the defendant be committed to prison for eight months but we suspend that order for two years.”
In a statement after the hearing, Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC said: “The injunction in this case is intended to both protect the identities of the offenders but also innocent individuals who may be incorrectly identified as them.
“Posting this material online is a very serious matter and can result in a prison sentence.
“I would urge everyone to think carefully about whether their social media posts could breach the order or amount to any other type of contempt of court.”
Richard McKeag, 28, and Natalie Barker, 36, narrowly avoided jail in January for posting information online said to be about Venables.
Earlier this month, the father and uncle of James Bulger failed in a bid to have the injunction varied to allow his past identities, which they said were “common knowledge” and easily accessible online, to be revealed.
Only a handful of lifelong anonymity orders have been made to date, including those granted to Venables and Thompson, plus child killer Mary Bell.