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Who were the killers of James Bulger?

Court portrait of  Robert Thompson and Jon Venables
Image Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: An courtroom artists impression of the James Bulger case at Preston Crown Court

With the release of Denise Fergus (formerly Denise Bulger), book 'I Let Him Go', we look at a case that shook a nation over twenty five years ago and where the boys (now men), who committed such a brutal act, are now.

On the 12th February 1993 two year old James Bulger was at the New Strand Shopping Centre, Liverpool, Merseyside, with his mother, Denise Bulger. Little did Denise know that whilst she was shopping with her son, two young boys were observing children, searching for a target. The two boys, ten year-olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, had attempted to abduct a two year old boy earlier in the day but their plan had been interrupted by the toddler’s mother. They then set their sights on James Bulger. The boys approached James Bulger and lead him out of the shopping centre when his mother was distracted. Venables and Thompson took the boy on a 2.5 mile walk to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, where they joked about pushing the toddler in. They decided against this idea and his eventual death would be far more malicious.

Venables and Thompson took Bulger up the steep bank to a railway line near the disused Walton & Anfield railway station where one of the boys threw modelling paint, which they had stolen earlier in the day, into Bulger’s eye. They kicked Bulger, stamped on him and threw bricks at him. They shoved batteries into the toddler’s mouth. Finally, they used a 10 kilogram iron bar, known as a railway fishplate, to kill the boy. They dropped the bar on Bulger leaving him with ten skull fractures as revealed by the pathologist. Upon his investigation, the pathologist said Bulger had suffered so many injuries, forty-two in total, that none could be determined as the fatal blow. Unfortunately this was not the end of the boys torture, Venables and Thompson laid the toddler across the railway tracks in the hope people would believe the boy’s death had been an accident. They weighed Bulger’s head down with rubble and left him there. The boy’s body was discovered on the 14th February 1993, it had been cut in half by a train but pathologists confirmed he was already dead when this happened.

When she realised her son was missing Denise Bulger made a statement, before her son’s body was found where she described her son in the present tense, “James’ hair is ready for cutting... His eyes are blue but in the right eye is a brown streak. He has a full set of baby teeth”. She recalled that he was wearing a noddy T-shirt and loved anything to do with trains. The breakthrough in the case came from a woman who saw the enhanced images of Venables and Thompson, taken from CCTV, on the television. She recognised Venables who she knew had played truant with Thompson on the day of Bulger’s murder.The age of the accused boys sent shockwaves through the nation, two ten year olds had committed one of the most heinous crimes against an innocent toddler. Police confirmed they had the right boys through forensic tests; they found the same blue paint on the boys’ clothing as found on Bulger’s body, blood on Thompson’s shoes matched that of Bulger’s DNA and the pattern of bruising on Bulger’s right cheek matched the upper part of Thompson’s shoe.

The boys were charged with murder on the 20th February 1993 and they appeared at South Sefton Youth Court on the 22nd February 1993. Whilst awaiting trial the boys were held in secure units where they were sentenced to be detained indefinitely. Five hundred protesters appeared at the trial of Venables and Thompson, the parents of the accused had to be moved to different parts of the country for their own safety. The two boys appeared at Preston Crown Court on the 1st November 1993, where their trials were conducted as adult trials. The two boys had been charged with murder, abduction and attempted abduction for the two year old they almost kidnapped. They denied all the charges. However, hours of CCTV footage and DNA evidence left little doubt that Venables and Thompson had committed the crimes and they were both found guilty of Bulger’s murder on the 24th November 1993. Both boys were now eleven years old when they were sentenced to a minimum of eight years imprisonment. They became the youngest convicted murderers of the twentieth century.

At the close of their trial the judge lifted reporting restrictions and allowed the names of the killers to be released to the public, “I did this because the public interest overrode the interest of the defendants”.

Where are they now?

When James Bulger’s mother heard about Venables latest arrest she said, “Venables has now proved beyond any doubt what a vile, perverted psychopath he has always been”. My question is when do we stop giving chances? When do we stop giving someone the benefit of the doubt?