25 years ago this week, a crime shook Britain and the city of Liverpool in particular with such revulsion that no-one who was alive at the time will ever forget. It was a crime where society sank to a new low and thankfully in the intervening years, nothing quite so sickening has ever happened since.
It was a relatively common enough event at first, a little 2 year old boy had wandered off from his mother whilst out shopping. For two days Britain held its breath waiting to see if baby James Bulger would be found. His famous image along with the creepy CCTV footage of his young abductors filled the airwaves as we hoped against hope for a happy ending. Not only was the happy ending not to be but the eventual outcome was more shocking than anyone might have imagined.
It was the first time out that young James had been out shopping and free to walk around outside the confines of his push chair. In the few seconds when his mother had to let go of his hand to pay the cashier, he was enticed away to his eventual death.
Little James was led away by the depraved duo while his mother , Denise was in a butcher’s shop at the busy shopping centre. A picture taken from CCTV footage shows the tot being taken by the hand in what would become one of the defining images of the shocking case. His mother immediately left the shop looking for her son who was with her moments ago. Tragically she turned right and if she had only turned left then she would have seen him being led away just a few feet away.
The killers walked James for two and half miles and were spotted by 38 people – some of whom challenged the pair. Venables and Thompson told passers-by that the distressed toddler was their younger brother or that he was lost and they were taking him to a local police station.
One woman even wanted to take the trio to the station, but was with a dog who was jumping up and was scared the animal would bite the children. She directed them to Walton Lane police station instead.
They three even all stopped at a tropical fish shop, seen tapping the glass to make the fish move.
Hours later they looked across the road to Walton Lane police station before taking little Jamie up the embankment of a comparatively little used railway line. What happened to the baby next is so shocking that the full details have still yet to be released and likely won’t ever be whilst his parents are alive.
Having earlier all ready dropped him head first to the ground they then poured modelling paint into his eyes, stoned him and clubbed him with bricks, inserted batteries in his mouth and kicked him in the face before finally dropping a heavy 22lbs/10 kg iron bar on the boy before leaving him on the railway line under a pile of bricks to be hit by a train, they hoped it would disguise the method of his death. Though the train cut his body in two, James was all ready dead.
After killing the tot they left his body near the tracks where it was discovered two days later. A pathologist later said that there were so many injuries – 42 in total – that not one could be isolated as causing the little boy’s fatal wound.
CCTV surveillance from the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, Merseyside taken on Friday 12 February 1993 showed Robert Thompson and Jon Venables casually observing children, apparently selecting a target. In fact they had previously led a child away only for them to be stopped by the childs mother as they headed to the doors.
The 10 year old boys were playing truant from school, which they did regularly. Throughout the day, Thompson and Venables were seen stealing various items including sweets, a troll doll, some batteries and a can of blue paint, some of which were later found at the murder scene. One of the boys later revealed that they were planning to find a child to abduct, lead him to the busy road alongside the shopping centre, and push him into the path of oncoming traffic.
The police quickly found low-resolution video images of Bulger’s abduction from the New Strand Shopping Centre by two unidentified boys. The railway embankment upon which his body had been discovered was adorned with hundreds of bunches of flowers. The family of one boy, who was detained for questioning but subsequently released, had to flee the city due to threats by vigilantes. The breakthrough came when a woman, on seeing slightly enhanced images of the two boys on national television, recognised Venables, who she knew had played truant with Thompson that day. She contacted police and the boys were arrested. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were only 10-years-old when they became the country’s youngest murderers in 250 years for the murder of 2 year old James Bulger.
Despite their young age Thompson and Venables were charged with murder on 20th February 1993 with their eventual trial in November 1993 at Preston Crown Court seeing numbers of up to 500 protestors outside the court as it took pathologist 33 minutes to run through the various injuries that Jamie had suffered, many after he had been stripped naked from the waist. Police suspected that there was a sexual element to the crime, since Bulger’s shoes, socks, trousers and underpants had been removed.
The boys, by then aged 11, were found guilty of Bulger’s murder at the Preston court on 24 November 1993, becoming the youngest convicted murderers of the 20th century. The judge, Mr Justice Morland, told Thompson and Venables that they had committed a crime of “unparalleled evil and barbarity… In my judgment, your conduct was both cunning and very wicked.” Morland sentenced them to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, with a recommendation that they should be kept in custody for “very, very many years to come”, recommending a minimum term of eight years.
Due to widespread public outrage, their jail terms were extended on more than one occassion for 15 years but this was reduced as it was seen unlawful by the High Court and the European Court of Human Rights believed that having 11 year olds stand trial in an adult court environment was unfair.
As such and after being through various education and treatment programmes so they were said to no longer be a threat to the public, the boys were released, forbidden from returning to Merseyside or contacting members of the Bulger family and almost uniquely in Britain, were given new identities to safeguard their lives from members of general public who would undoubtedly do them harm.
Little has been heard of Robert Thompson since his release though Jon Venables has repeatedly re-offended having become involved in fracas, twice revealed his true identity to friends and more recently found guilty of possession child pornography.
Their period of incarceration and protection since being released has so far cost several million pounds, the father of James Bulger along with many others publicly state that Venables should lose his hidden identity and his name and whearabouts should be made public in the name of public welfare and the protection of children everywhere.