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The Trial

Crime Files

The Trial

On 22 February 1993, the two boys appear at South Sefton Magistrates’ Court in Bootle to face their charges. They plead ‘not guilty’. A crowd of 300 people gather outside and as the vans leave a riot breaks out. This time the vans are decoys, but it raises questions. What would have happened if the crowd had got hold of one of the defendants?

The authorities having underestimated the public’s anger, relocates the trial to Preston. The trial begins on 1 November, at Preston Crown Court. A special platform is built to allow the defendants to see above the railings. Denise and Ralph Bulger announce they are expecting another baby, but Denise refuses to come to court. She’s vehement she won’t sit in the same vicinity as James’ killers. To this day there are still certain details of the case that she’s unaware of. Crucially the boys have now reached the age of 11 and are old enough to be convicted of murder. However, the jury needs to believe that both boys understand the seriousness of their crimes. To hide the identity of both boys they are referred to during the trial as Child A and Child B.

A special platform is built to allow the defendants to see above the railings

An injunction prevents the press from releasing any details about them. It emerges that on 12 February 1993, at around 12.30pm the boys had tried to abduct another little boy from the same shopping precinct. The mother spotted her son and daughter playing with two boys. While paying for her shopping she realised her son was missing. As she ran outside she saw the same two boys beckoning her son to follow them. Screaming his name, her son returned. During the trial she remembers overhearing Thompson and Venables say 'We’ll take one of those.' Venables mentioned in his police interview it was their intention to find a child and throw them into the path of an oncoming bus or taxi in the road outside the shopping centre. They wanted the death to look like an accident. This is a horrifying revelation and a coup for the prosecution. During the abduction of James Bulger the pair took him on a 2.5 mile walk of the city. It would take just over 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete. Thirty-eight witnesses are called to the stand to reveal what they saw at the various stages of James’ final journey.

The prosecution wants to make it clear to the jury that they don’t need to rely on Thompson and Venables’ version of events. One witness, Malcolm Walton, says he’d seen a child matching James description near the Leeds and Liverpool Canal that looked to be in a distressed state. Another, Irene Hitman, who was taking her dog for a walk close to her home in Breeze Hill, also saw the same boy at about 4.40pm. She said the boy looked to be frightened with large lumps on his head. She told Thompson and Venables to take the boy home, but that wasn’t their intention. The witnesses all blame themselves for not interfering, but they weren’t to know the terrible crime that would unfold. The forensic evidence submitted to the jury is vital. Graham Jackson, a Home Office forensic scientist, matched blood samples from James to the blood found on Child B’s shoe. There was a one in a billion chance of it being an error.

Philip Rydeard, another forensic scientist, was able to match the pattern of bruising on James’ right cheek with features of the upper part of a shoe worn by Child A. They were black brogues that had distinctive stitching and an unusual arrangement of lacing rings. Light-blue paint-marks had been discovered on James’ anorak, hair, shoes and underpants. The same light-blue paint-marks were also found on Child A and Child B’s clothing including their jackets, trousers and shoes. Andy Mulley, a forensic scientist, pointed out to the jury that a paint mark on Child B’s sleeve might well have been James’ small hand-print. Despite their strong evidence the police are concerned that the jury will only return a verdict of manslaughter. The fact that the jury needs to be sure the boys know the severity of their crimes, is troubling the police, especially Detective Superintendent Albert Kirby.

After hearing three weeks of evidence the jury are asked to deliver their verdict. On 24 November 1993, taking just six hours, the jury find both Thompson and Venables guilty. Mr Justice Morland sentences them to be detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for a minimum of eight years. 'Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the killing of James Bulger was an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity.' Mr Justice Morland, before passing sentence November 1993.

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