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Brianna Ghey Family handout/Cheshire Police/PA Images

Why can Brianna Ghey’s teenage killers be named by the UK courts?

Until this morning, her killers were identified only as girl X and boy Y.

THIS MORNING, AN order banning the identification of Brianna Ghey’s teenage killers was lifted.

Brianna, 16, was stabbed with a hunting knife 28 times in her head, neck, chest and back after being lured to a park in Culcheth, a village near Warrington in England on the afternoon of 11 February last year.

Until this morning, her killers were identified only as girl X and boy Y.

They are both aged 16 now but were 15 at the time of the murder.

Both had denied murder and blamed each other for the killing of Brianna, who was transgender.

On 20 December 2023, they were found guilty of Brianna’s murder and a day later, trial judge Mrs Justice Amanda Yip ruled that the media would be allowed to report the identities of Brianna’s killers when they were sentenced.

That sentence hearing took place today, and Brianna’s killers were named as Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe. The two were ordered to serve a minimum term of 22 and 20 years respectively before parole would be considered. 

The judge told the hearing that they will only be released after the minimum term is served when a parole board decides that they no longer present a danger. 

brianna-ghey-murder-court-case Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe Cheshire Constabulary / PA Images Cheshire Constabulary / PA Images / PA Images

Anonymity order

Children appearing in youth or crown courts in England, whether as a victim, witness or defendant, generally cannot be identified if they are under the age of 18.

However, anonymity orders can be lifted by judges, as was the case in this trial.

The decision followed representations on behalf of the media made by the PA news agency and ITV. This media application was supported by Brianna’s family.

Lawyers for Jenkinson and Ratcliffe opposed the media application, citing the possible ramifications on their welfare and consequences for their families, including death threats that had been received by Jenkinson’s family, who was then known as girl X in the media.

Mrs Justice Yip ruled that there was a “strong public interest in the full and unrestricted reporting of what is plainly an exceptional case”.

She added: “The public will naturally wish to know the identities of the young people responsible as they seek to understand how children could do something so dreadful.

“Continuing restrictions inhibits full and informed debate and restricts the full reporting of the case.”

The judge also noted that the order banning their identification would have lapsed in 2025, when they turned 18.

Children convicted of crimes in England can be identified by the media when they turn 18, unless an order granting them lifelong anonymity is made, and this is reserved for exceptional cases.

“Continuing the reporting restrictions until the defendants turn 18 would, in my view, represent a substantial and unreasonable restriction on the freedom of the press,” she ruled.

Other young killers named by UK courts

The most high-profile children to be named in a criminal court case were Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

Both were 10 when they abducted, tortured and murdered two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool in February 1993.

However, they have effectively been granted lifelong anonymity, because in 2001, shortly after they turned 18, the UK High Court made an injunction preventing the media from publishing their new identities.

In the case of Venables, he was released on licence in July 2001 and recalled to prison in February 2010 after indecent images of children were found on his computer.

He was once again freed in August 2013 and then called back in November 2017 for the same offence.

On 13 December last, he lost a Parole Board bid to be freed from jail.

river Jon Venables' mugshot from 1993, when he was 10 years old

In other cases, judges lifted anonymity orders because it was felt that this would have a “deterrent effect”.

This was the case for Will Cornick, who was 15 when he stabbed to death Ann Maguire, 61, as she taught a class at Corpus Christi Catholic College, in Leeds, in April 2014.

The judge in the case, who ruled Cornick could be named as he was jailed for at least 20 years, said lifting his anonymity would have “a clear deterrent effect” and will also aid debates about the wider issues involved.

He added: “Ill-informed commentators may scoff, but those of us involved in the criminal justice system know that deterrence will almost always be a factor in the naming of those involved in offences such as this.”

Similarly, a judge cited the potential deterrent effect when sentencing two teenagers, Jack Hindley and Samuel Jones, who were found guilty of the murder of a 35-year-old musician in Dorset in 2021. 

The judge in the case said that open reporting could have a “deterrent effect” on youth knife crime and attacks in the home, which he said were “two areas of public concern”.

He added: “There is greater weight in open justice and unrestricted reporting than in the interests of these defendants.”

Can child killers be named in Ireland?

Under the Children’s Act 2001 (amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006), no report can be published or included in a broadcast which reveals the name, address or school of any child concerned in criminal proceedings.

News reports cannot include any information that could lead to the identification of any child concerned.

In addition to this, no photographs of young defendants can be published, or images that would lead to them being identified – like that of a family member, for example.

The legislation applies to matters published or included in a broadcast or other form of public communication, including social media posts.

However, in a landmark ruling last month, the Court of Appeal ruled that a child before the courts for a criminal offence can be identified if they turn 18 during proceedings or by the time their appeal comes on for hearing.

The court returned that judgement on 19 January in the case of the youth who murdered student Cameron Blair.

river (1) Cameron Blair

He will be named at some point this month unless his legal team takes the case to the Supreme Court.

The youth, who was 17 when he pleaded guilty to Cameron Blair’s murder, is now 21.

His anonymity had been preserved by an interpretation of Section 93 of the Children Act, which held that the rules protecting the identity of child offenders still applied when that person appeared before the Court of Appeal having reached the age of 18.

However, the Court of Appeal ruled last month that section 93 “applies only to a child”, which is defined as a person under the age of 18 years.

The ruling will have implications for child defendants who are unable to get a hearing date or complete their trial and sentence before they turn 18.

Two of the most high-profile child offenders in Ireland are known only as Boy A and Boy B, who were 14 when they were convicted of the murder of schoolgirl Ana Kriegel.

They will come before the courts as adults in the coming years when their sentences come up for review.

However, Mr Justice Paul McDermott, who oversaw their trial and sentence, made an order preserving their anonymity and that order remains in place.

This means court there should be no publication of any material that would identify these children. 

However, several people have appeared in court accused of sharing the names and/or images of Boy A and Boy B online. 

-With additional reporting from PA, Eoin Reynolds, and Michelle Hennessy