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Robert THOMPSON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (10) - Abduction - Torture
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 12, 1993
Date of arrest: 6 days after
Date of birth: August 23, 1982
Victim profile: James Patrick Bulger, 2
Method of murder: Beating with bricks, stones, and a piece of metal
Location: Liverpool, Merseyside, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to custody until the age of 18. Released on lifelong licence in June 2001
 
 
 
 
 
 
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James Patrick Bulger (16 March 1990 – 12 February 1993) was a two-year-old boy from Kirkby, Merseyside, England, who was abducted, tortured and murdered by two 10-year-old boys, Robert Thompson (born 23 August 1982) and Jon Venables (born 13 August 1982).

Bulger disappeared on 12 February 1993 from the New Strand Shopping Centre, Bootle, while accompanying his mother. His mutilated body was found on a railway line in nearby Walton on 14 February. Thompson and Venables were charged on 20 February 1993 with the abduction and murder.

Thompson and Venables were found guilty of the murder of Bulger on 24 November 1993, making them the youngest convicted murderers in modern English history. They were sentenced to custody until they reached adulthood, initially until the age of 18, and were released on lifelong licence in June 2001. The case has prompted widespread debate on the issue of how to handle young offenders when they are sentenced or released from custody.

In March 2010, Venables was returned to prison for an unspecified violation of the terms of his licence of release. In July 2010, he pleaded guilty to charges of downloading and distributing child pornography, and was given a sentence of two years' imprisonment.

The murder

CCTV evidence from the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle taken on 12 February 1993 showed Thompson and Venables casually observing children, apparently selecting a target. The 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 found at the murder scene. It was later revealed by one of the boys that they were planning to find a child to abduct, lead him to the busy road alongside the mall, and push him into the path of oncoming traffic.

That same afternoon, James Bulger (often called "Jamie" by the press, although never by his family), from nearby Kirkby, went with his mother Denise to the New Strand Shopping Centre. While inside a butcher's shop at around 3:40pm, Denise realised that her son had disappeared. He had been left at the door of the shop while she placed an order, and was spotted by Thompson and Venables. They approached him and spoke to him, before taking him by the hand and leading him out of the precinct. This moment was captured on a CCTV camera recording timestamped at 15:42.

The boys took Bulger on a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) walk across Liverpool, leading him to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal where he was dropped on his head and suffered injuries to his face. The boys joked about pushing Bulger into the canal. During the walk across Liverpool, the boys were seen by 38 people. Bulger had a bump on his forehead and was crying, but most bystanders did nothing to intervene, assuming that he was a younger brother. Two people challenged the older boys, but they claimed that Bulger was a younger brother or that he was lost and they were taking him to the local police station. At one point, the boys took Bulger into a pet shop, from which they were ejected. Eventually the boys led Bulger to a railway line near the disused Walton & Anfield railway station, close to Walton Lane police station and Anfield Cemetery, where they attacked him.

At the trial it was established that at this location, one of the boys threw blue Humbrol modelling paint into Bulger's left eye. They kicked him and hit him with bricks, stones and a 22-pound (10.0 kg) iron bar, described in court as a railway fishplate. They placed batteries in his mouth. Bulger suffered ten skull fractures as a result of the iron bar striking his head. Alan Williams, the case's pathologist, speculated that Bulger suffered so many injuries that none could be isolated as the fatal blow.

Police suspected that there was a sexual element to the crime, since Bulger's shoes, stockings, trousers and underpants had been removed. The pathologist's report read out in court stated that Bulger's foreskin had been manipulated. When questioned about this aspect of the attack by detectives and the child psychiatrist Eileen Vizard, Thompson and Venables were reluctant to give details.

Before they left him, the boys laid Bulger across the railway tracks and weighted his head down with rubble, in the hope that a train would hit him and make his death appear to be an accident. After Bulger's killers left the scene, his body was cut in half by a train. Bulger's severed body was discovered two days later, on 14 February. A forensic pathologist testified that he had died before he was struck by the train.

The police quickly found low-resolution video images of Bulger's abduction from the Strand Shopping Centre by two unidentified boys. As the circumstances surrounding the death became clear, tabloid newspapers denounced the people who had seen Bulger but had not intervened to aid Bulger as he was being taken through the city, as the "Liverpool 38". The railway embankment upon which his body had been discovered was flooded with hundreds of bunches of flowers.

The crime created great anger in Liverpool. The family of one boy who was detained for questioning, but subsequently released, had to flee the city. The breakthrough came when a woman, on seeing slightly enhanced images of the two boys on national television, recognised Venables, whom she knew had played truant with Thompson that day. She contacted police and the boys were arrested. The fact that the boys were so young came as a shock to investigating officers, headed by Detective Superintendent Albert Kirby, of Merseyside Police. Early press reports and police statements had referred to Bulger being seen with "two youths" (suggesting that the killers were teenagers), the ages of the boys being difficult to ascertain from the images captured by CCTV.

Forensic tests also confirmed that both boys had the same blue paint on their clothing as found on Bulger's body. Both had blood on their shoes; blood on Thompson's shoe was matched to Bulger through DNA tests. The boys were charged with Bulger's murder on 20 February 1993, and appeared at South Sefton Youth Court on 22 February 1993, when they were remanded in custody to await trial.

Legal proceedings

In the aftermath of their arrest, and throughout the media accounts of their trial, the boys were referred to as 'Child A' (Thompson) and 'Child B' (Venables). At the close of the trial, the judge ruled their names should be released (because of the nature of the murder and the public reaction), and they were identified along with lengthy descriptions of their lives and backgrounds. Public shock was compounded by the release, after the trial, of mug shots taken during questioning by police.

Five hundred protesters gathered at South Sefton Magistrates' Court during the boys' initial court appearances. The parents of the accused were moved to different parts of the country and assumed new identities following death threats from vigilantes.

The full trial opened at Preston Crown Court on 1 November 1993, conducted as an adult trial with the accused in the dock away from their parents, and the judge and court officials in legal regalia. The boys denied the charges of murder, abduction and attempted abduction brought against them. The attempted abduction charge related to an incident at the New Strand Shopping Centre earlier on 12 February 1993, the day of Bulger's death. Thompson and Venables had attempted to lead away another two-year-old boy, but had been prevented by the boy's mother. Each boy sat in view of the court on raised chairs (so they could see out of the dock designed for adults) accompanied by two social workers. Although they were separated from their parents, they were within touching distance when their families attended the trial. News stories reported the demeanour of the defendants. These aspects were later criticised by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 1999 that they had not received a fair trial by being tried in public in an adult court.

At the trial, the lead prosecution counsel Richard Henriques QC successfully rebutted the principle of doli incapax, which presumes that young children cannot be held legally responsible for their actions. The child psychiatrist Dr. Eileen Vizard, who interviewed Thompson before the trial, was asked in court whether he would know the difference between right and wrong, that it was wrong to take a young child away from its mother, and that it was wrong to cause injury to a child. Vizard replied "If the issue is on the balance of probabilities, I think I can answer with certainty". Vizard also said that Thompson was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder after the attack on Bulger.

Dr. Susan Bailey, the Home Office forensic psychiatrist who interviewed Venables, said unequivocally that he knew the difference between right and wrong. Thompson and Venables did not speak during the trial, and the case against them was based to a large extent on the more than 20 hours of tape-recorded police interviews with the boys, which were played back in court. The two boys, by then aged 11, were found guilty of Bulger's murder at Preston Crown Court on 24 November 1993, becoming the youngest convicted killers 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."

The judge 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. Shortly after the trial, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, the Lord Chief Justice, ordered that the two boys should serve a minimum of ten years, which would have made them eligible for release in February 2003 at the age of twenty.

The editors of The Sun newspaper handed a petition bearing nearly 280,000 signatures to Home Secretary Michael Howard, in a bid to increase the time spent by both boys in custody. This campaign was successful, and in July 1994 Howard announced that the boys would be kept in custody for a minimum of fifteen years, meaning that they would not be considered for release until February 2008, by which time they would be twenty-five years of age.

Lord Donaldson criticised Howard's intervention, describing the increased tariff as "institutionalised vengeance ... [by] a politician playing to the gallery". The increased minimum term was overturned in 1997 by the House of Lords, who ruled that it was "unlawful" for the Home Secretary to decide on minimum sentences for offenders aged under 18.

The High Court and European Court of Human Rights have since ruled that, though the parliament may set minimum and maximum terms for individual categories of crime, it is the responsibility of the trial judge, with the benefit of all the evidence and argument from both prosecution and defence counsel, to determine the minimum term in individual criminal cases.

The case led to public anguish, and concern at moral decay in Britain. Tony Blair, then shadow Home Secretary, gave a speech in Wellingborough on 19 February, saying that "We hear of crimes so horrific they provoke anger and disbelief in equal proportions … These are the ugly manifestations of a society that is becoming unworthy of that name." Prime Minister John Major said that "society needs to condemn a little more, and understand a little less".

The trial judge Mr. Justice Morland stated that exposure to violent videos might have encouraged the actions of Thompson and Venables, but this was disputed by David Maclean, the Minister of State at the Home Office at the time, who pointed out that police had found no evidence linking the case with "video nasties". Some UK tabloid newspapers claimed that the attack on James Bulger was inspired by the film Child's Play 3, and campaigned for the rules on "video nasties" to be tightened. Inspector Ray Simpson of Merseyside Police commented: "If you are going to link this murder to a film, you might as well link it to The Railway Children". The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 clarified the rules on the availability of certain types of video material to children.

Appeal and release

In 1999, lawyers for Thompson and Venables appealed to the European Court of Human Rights that the boys' trial had not been impartial, since they were too young to follow proceedings and understand an adult court. The European Court dismissed their claim that the trial was inhuman and degrading treatment, but upheld their claim they were denied a fair hearing by the nature of the court proceedings.

The European Court also held that Michael Howard's intervention had led to a "highly charged atmosphere", which resulted in an unfair judgment. On 15 March 1999, the court in Strasbourg ruled by 14 votes to 5 that there had been a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the fairness of the trial of Thompson and Venables, stating: "The public trial process in an adult court must be regarded in the case of an 11-year-old child as a severely intimidating procedure".

In September 1999, Bulger's parents applied to the European Court of Human Rights, but failed to persuade the court that a victim of a crime has the right to be involved in determining the sentence of the perpetrator.

The European Court case led to the new Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, reviewing the minimum sentence. In October 2000, he recommended the tariff be reduced from ten to eight years, adding that young offenders' institutions were a "corrosive atmosphere" for the juveniles.

In June 2001, after a six month review, the parole board ruled the boys were no longer a threat to public safety and could be released as their minimum tariff had expired in the February of that year. The Home Secretary David Blunkett approved the decision, and they were released a few weeks later on a life licence after serving eight years. They were given new identities and moved to secret locations under a "witness protection"-style action.

The terms of their release include the following: They are not allowed to contact each other or Bulger's family. They are prohibited from visiting the Merseyside region. Curfews may be imposed on them and they must report to probation officers. Breach of those rules would make them liable to be returned to prison. If they were deemed to be a risk to the public, they would be returned to prison.

An injunction was imposed on the news media after the trial, preventing the publication of details about the boys. The injunction was kept in force following their release on parole, so their new identities and locations could not be published. David Blunkett stated in 2001: "The injunction was granted because there was a real and strong possibility that their lives would be at risk if their identities became known.

Subsequents events

The Manchester Evening News named the secure institutions in which the pair were housed, in possible breach of the injunction against publicity which had been renewed early in 2001. In December that year, the paper was fined £30,000 for contempt of court and ordered to pay costs of £120,000.

The Guardian revealed that both boys had passed A-levels during their sentences. The paper also told how the Bulger family’s lawyers had consulted psychiatric experts in order to present the parole panel with a report which suggested that Thompson is an undiagnosed psychopath, citing his lack of remorse during his trial and arrest. The report was ultimately dismissed. However, his lack of remorse at the time, in stark contrast to Venables, led to considerable scrutiny from the parole panel.

Upon release, both Thompson and Venables had lost all trace of their Liverpool accents. In a psychiatric report prepared in 2000 prior to Venables' release, he was described as posing a "trivial" risk to the public and unlikely to reoffend. The chances of his successful rehabilitation were described as "very high".

No significant publication or vigilante action against Thompson or Venables has occurred. Despite this, Bulger's mother, Denise, told how in 2004 she received a tip-off from an anonymous source that helped her locate Thompson. Upon seeing him, she was "paralysed with hatred" and was unable to confront him.

In April 2007, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act confirmed that the Home Office had spent £13,000 on an injunction to prevent a foreign magazine from revealing the new identities of Thompson and Venables.

On 14 March 2008, an appeal to set up a Red Balloon Learner Centre in Merseyside in memory of James Bulger was launched by Denise Fergus, his mother, and Esther Rantzen. A memorial garden in Bulger's memory was created in Sacred Heart Primary School in Kirkby. He would have been expected to attend this school had he not been murdered.

Bulger's parents Ralph and Denise divorced in 1995, and Denise married Stuart Fergus in 1998.

In March 2010, a call was made to raise the age of criminal responsibility in England from 10 to 12. Children's commissioner Maggie Atkinson said that the killers of James Bulger should have undergone "programmes" to help turn their lives around, rather than being prosecuted. The Ministry of Justice rejected the call, saying that children over the age of 10 knew the difference "between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing".

In April 2010, a 19-year-old man from the Isle of Man was given a three-month suspended prison sentence for claiming in a Facebook message that one of his former work colleagues was Robert Thompson. In passing sentence, Deputy High Bailiff Alastair Montgomery said that the teenager had "put that person at significant risk of serious harm" and in a "perilous position" by making the allegation.

2010 imprisonment of Venables

On 2 March 2010, the Ministry of Justice revealed that Jon Venables had been returned to prison for an unspecified violation of the terms of his licence of release. Justice Secretary Jack Straw stated that Venables was returned to prison because of "extremely serious allegations," and stated that he was "unable to give further details of the reasons for Jon Venables' return to custody, because it was not in the public interest to do so." Following the Sunday Mirror's claim on 7 March that Venables was returned to prison on suspected child pornography charges, Straw repeated that premature disclosure of details of Venables's return to custody was not in the public interest, and that the "motivation throughout has been solely to ensure that some extremely serious allegations are properly investigated and that justice is done".

The Children's Secretary Ed Balls warned that some parts of the UK media were coming close to breaking the law, and stated : "If we responded to the desire for people to know the facts in public in a way which ends up prejudicing a legal case, we would look back and think we made very irresponsible decisions". Straw revealed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that due to the media and public pressure for details to be released, he would "make a judgment about if there's information – given that it's already out in the newspapers – we can confirm."

In a statement to the House of Commons on 8 March 2010, Jack Straw reiterated that it was "not in the interest of justice" to reveal the reason why Venables had been returned to custody. Baroness Butler-Sloss, the judge who made the decision to grant Venables anonymity in 2001, warned that he could be killed if his new identity was revealed.

Bulger's mother Denise Fergus said that she was angry that the Parole Board did not tell her that Venables had been returned to prison, and called for his anonymity to be removed if he was charged with a crime. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice stated that there is a worldwide injunction against publication of either killers' location or new identity.

The return to prison of Venables revived a false claim that a man from Fleetwood in Lancashire was Jon Venables. The claim was reported and dismissed in September 2005, but reappeared in March 2010 when it was circulated widely via SMS messages, Facebook and Twitter. Chief Inspector Tracie O'Gara of Lancashire Constabulary stated: "An individual who was targeted four and a half years ago was not Jon Venables and now he has left the area".

On 21 June 2010, Venables was charged with possession and distribution of indecent images of children. It was alleged that he downloaded 57 indecent images of children over a twelve month period to February 2010, and allowed other people to access the files through a peer-to-peer network. Venables faced two charges under the Protection of Children Act 1978. On 23 July 2010, Venables appeared at a court hearing at the Old Bailey via a video link, visible only to the judge hearing the case. He pleaded guilty to charges of downloading and distributing child pornography, and was given a sentence of two years' imprisonment.

At the court hearing, it emerged that Venables had posed in online chat rooms as 35-year-old Dawn "Dawnie" Smith, a married woman from Liverpool who boasted about abusing her eight-year-old daughter, in the hope of obtaining further child pornography. Venables had contacted his probation officer in February 2010, fearing that his new official identity had been compromised. When the officer arrived at his home, Venables was attempting to remove the hard drive of his computer with a knife and a tin opener. The officer's suspicions were aroused, and the computer was taken away for examination, leading to the discovery of the child pornography, which included children as young as two being raped by adults.

The judge ruled that Venables' new identity could not be revealed, but the media was allowed to report that he had been living in Cheshire at the time of his arrest. The High Court also heard that Venables had been arrested on suspicion of affray in September 2008, following a drunken street fight with another man. Later the same year, he was cautioned for possession of cocaine.

In November 2010, a review of the National Probation Service handling of the case by Sir David Omand found that probation officers could not have prevented Venables from downloading child pornography. Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, commented that only 24-hour surveillance would have prevented Venables from downloading the material.

Depictions of the case in the media

In June 2007 a computer game based on the TV series Law & Order, titled Law & Order: Double or Nothing (made in 2003), was withdrawn from stores in the UK following reports that it contained an image of Bulger. The image in question is the CCTV frame of Bulger being led away by his killers, Thompson and Venables. The scene in the game involves a computer-generated detective pointing out the picture, which is meant to represent a fictional child abduction that the player is then asked to investigate. Bulger's family complained, along with many others, and the game was subsequently withdrawn by its UK distributor, GSP. The game’s developer, Legacy Interactive (an American company), released a statement in which it apologised for the image's inclusion in the game; according to the statement, the image’s use was "inadvertent" and took place "without any knowledge of the crime, which occurred in the UK and was minimally publicised in the United States".

In 2008, Swedish playwright Niklas Rådström used the interview transcripts from interrogations with the murderers and their families to recreate the story. His play, Monsters, opened to mixed reviews at the Arcola Theatre in London in May 2009.

In August 2009, Australia's Seven Network used real footage of the abduction to promote its police show City Homicide. The use of the footage was criticised by Bulger's mother and Seven apologised. A tie in with this saw the Sunrise co-hosts asking the rhetorical question of whether the killers were now living in Australia. When the question was answered on 24 August 2009 edition, they used one minute and seven seconds to relate the Australian government's two-line denial that they had been settled in the country.

A Hollyoaks storyline, set to begin in December 2009, was axed after the show gave Bulger's mother Denise Fergus a special screening. The storyline was to feature Loretta Jones and her friend Chrissy, who had been given new identities before arriving in the village, after being convicted of murdering a child at the age of 12.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

The death of James Bulger

By Shirley Lynn Scott

The Video Tape

Children become, while little, our delights,
When they grow bigger, they begin to fright’s.
Their sinful Nature prompts them to rebel,
And to delight in Paths that lead to Hell.

-- John Bunyan, “Book for Boys and Girls” (1686)

"All little boys are nice until they get older.” 
-- Robert Thompson, age 11

We see them everywhere. Those security cameras that hang in corners, bolted to the ceiling, silently monitoring us as we shop. Do they make us feel safer? Or do we ignore them, assuming nothing bad happens in the safe haven of our suburban shopping centers? Like millions of cameras installed in almost every modern shopping plaza, they are set up to identify shoplifters and thieves. But on February 12, 1993 in the calm of a Friday early afternoon, the security cameras at the Bootle Strand Shopping Center near Liverpool, England, captured the most tragic of thefts -- on this day, something priceless was stolen.

In this video clip, we see a young boy holding a toddler by the hand. A few paces ahead, another boy leads. They look like family, navigating a baby brother past shoppers and distractions. Passersby hardly notice them, unaware that one of the most heartbreaking murders in British history was unfolding right before their eyes. Too young to fight, too young to know better, the toddler trusted the boys who took him by the hand and led him away. All the while his frantic mother Denise searched for her lost son, her only child.

This is two-year-old James Bulger in the hands of his killers, frozen in time. He will be taken on a long, aimless walk, cruelly tortured along the way. James will be senselessly beaten to death by his ten-year-old captors, who will callously abandon him on the railroad tracks. Along their meandering walk the three children encountered adults. A simple inquiry could have ended the tragedy:  “Is the boy okay? Let me help you find his mom. Let me take care of that hurt . . . ” These words and an extended hand from a concerned grown-up might have saved James’s life. And spared his mother unbearable grief.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson had been stealing things all day at the shopping center -- candy, a troll doll, some batteries, a can of blue paint, and other incidentals. Why did they decide to steal a baby? Was it a plot or a sudden, overwhelming compulsion? Once they had him, they didn’t know what to do with him. They could have easily discarded James, leaving him alone on the sidewalk, by a shop, where someone would discover the crying baby. But Jon and Robert, like children who would rather destroy their own possessions than give them to another, murdered the little boy. James’s parents would never see their baby alive again.

Both Jon and Robert were considered delinquents. Yet nothing in their pasts indicated that they could be so viciously cruel. Which one suggested kidnapping? How did they decide to murder little James? Many assumed it was Robert. He was the tough one, a purebred troublemaker. Robert acted the part and looked the part with his closely shaved head and pudgy, bully-like build. Jon, on the other hand, was thinner and fragile in appearance. Compared to Robert, he seemed sensitive and naive. After they were arrested, Jon cried hysterically and sank deep into remorse, whereas Robert floated on the surface, keeping his cool. It seemed that Robert was the perpetrator, and Jon the bystander. But as investigators examined the boys’ behaviors and confessions, they would begin to suspect something much more complex. With Robert and Jon, first impressions were deceiving.

Of course, Robert blamed Jon, and Jon blamed Robert. For children, lies seem like an easy escape, especially when there was another child present to blame. And even if they admitted the truth, how could ten-year-old boys put into words the depth of their hostilities and desire to mutilate and murder a two-year-old? Child psychologists unraveled the boy’s narratives, looking for clues as to why. Investigators tried to get to the truth, but had to ease up when tears turned to hysterics. The mothers were of no help. One of the boys eventually admitted to killing James. Would that let the other boy off the hook?

In what Michele Elliott, founder of Kidscape, called “the most unfortunate coming together of three children this century,” the tragic tale of James Bulger’s senseless death still fascinates us. We may never know why, but we can at least piece together some of their terrible journey through the testimony of witnesses and by putting together Robert’s and Jon’s versions of James Bulger’s murder.

Abduction

Baby James

Denise Bulger took James everywhere. She lost her first child during pregnancy and she did not want anything to happen to her precious son. At 25, she planned to have more kids, but for now, James was her only child and she kept him close. Her little boy, who would be three next month, had large blue eyes, a beaming smile, and sandy brown hair.

On Friday, Feb 12, Denise accompanied her brother’s girlfriend Nicola to the Bootle Strand Shopping Center and, of course, she brought James. At 2:30 they entered the modern, two-story shopping center. Inside, ceramic tile lined the walkways, and natural lighting filled the space. Nicola had to exchange some underwear at TJ Hughes, and Denise waited nearby, watching the children. For a moment James disappeared from sight. He was getting antsy, and made a fuss if he had to ride in the stroller. James wandered, but soon cried out, frightened to suddenly find himself alone.

Denise picked him up and they left TJ Hughes. She bought the children a snack, hoping to quiet James down. But the two-year-old was full of energy. At a children’s clothing store he tossed around baby’s clothes and at another store grabbed some candy and juice before Denise could stop him. They would be leaving soon, after one last stop at the butcher’s shop. Denise went in, leaving James by the door. Since there wasn’t a line, so she figured James, who was squirming and fussing in her arms, would be okay for a moment on his own.

The butcher mixed up the order, occupying Denise a little longer than she expected. Nicola, her companion, had just seen James playing with a cigarette butt by the door. When the young mother left the shop to scoop up her child, he was gone. She ran back inside, flustered. “I was only in the shop a few seconds. I turned round and he’d gone,” she cried.

The truants

That same morning, Jon Venables left his Merseyside home for school. He carried a note from his mother, requesting that he be allowed to take the class gerbils home, where he could care for them over the upcoming holiday break. But down the road, Jon ditched his school bag in his favorite hiding place. He saw Robert Thompson, who was hanging out with his little brother. Both were “sagging,” cutting class. Not that they had anything else to do. Both Jon and Robert hated school, where they felt like outcasts. Both had been kept behind a grade, a common denominator of shame. They became expert truants.

That Friday, they walked to the Bootle Strand. As they strolled through the mall, browsing the stores, sales people watched them closely. Their school uniforms signified their truancy, their potential for trouble.

Jon and Robert came to the shopping center to steal. It didn’t seem to matter what. They lurked around the counters, pocketing whatever was in reach when the salesperson was busy. They stole batteries, enamel paint, pens and pencils, a troll doll (Robert collected trolls), some fruit and candy, makeup, and other trinkets. They swiped a wind-up toy soldier, played with it on the escalator, and tossed it down the moving steps. They discarded much of what they took. Stealing was the fun part.

Everywhere, Jon and Robert were told to leave. They kicked a can of enamel paint until it started to leak. They teased an elderly woman, poking her in the back, then running off. They climbed all over the chairs at a McDonald’s until they were chased out. Shop clerks asked them, why aren’t you in school? They lied and said it was a holiday.

“Let’s get a kid”

Whose idea was it to lure a child? In custody, Robert claimed Jon said, “Let’s get a kid, I haven’t hit one for ages.” But Jon blamed Robert. “Let’s get this kid lost,” he quoted Robert as saying, “let’s get him lost outside so when he goes into the road he’ll get knocked over.” Perhaps both are telling the truth, perhaps they became giddy as they talked about taking a child. Was the idea first brought up as a joke, a dare? Boys talk tough, exaggerating their feats, goading one another to bigger challenges. Was Jon desperate to impress his tough friend? Was Robert trying to maintain his hooligan act? Neither would chicken out or back down once the challenge “let’s get a kid” was made. By stealing a baby, it seems, they were proving to each other that they were not babies themselves.

In the department store TJ Hughes, a woman noticed her three-year-old daughter and two-year-old son were playing with a couple of older boys. The boys, Jon and Robert, were kneeling down, opening purses and snapping them shut, attracting the kids’ attention. She called them back, but they strayed off again. After she paid for her item, she found her daughter and asked her where her baby brother was. “Gone outside with the boys,” she said. The mother raced outside and yelled her child’s name. She saw Jon and Robert, motioning to her son to come along. He had already followed them this far. But when Jon saw her, they froze. “Go back to your mum,” they said, and the two boys quickly disappeared.

Later, Jon and Robert went to a concession stand near the butcher’s shop, hoping to pocket some candy, but the stand was closed. As they stood there for a moment, wondering what to do next, Jon spotted a little boy in a blue anorak by the butcher’s door. He was eating Smarties.

“Come on, baby,” said Jon. James followed and Jon took him by the hand.

As they walked through the Strand, a few women noticed the threesome. Sometimes James ran ahead. The older boys were calling to him:  “Come on, baby.” Together, they left the shopping center. The video camera captured them as they left at 3:42 p.m.

“The little boy’s gone missing”

Denise was panicked. She was directed to the security office, where she described her son. He was wearing a blue anorak and grey sweatsuit. His tee-shirt had the word “Noddy” printed on it, and his blue wool scarf had a white cat face. Security wasn’t alarmed -- it was routine to announce the names and descriptions of lost children over the loudspeakers. But no one responded. Denise and Nicola searched the shops and again called the security officers -- still no James. At 4:15 p.m. they called the Marsh Lane Police Station to report a missing child.

Death by the Railway

“I want my mum”

Jon and Robert left the Bootle Strand and walked up Stanley Road. They carried the toddler, who cried and fussed. They set him down near the post office and said loudly, “Are you all right? You were told not to run.” James cried for his mother, but the boys continued on, ignoring his pleas. Jon held the boy’s hand as they walked. Sometimes he ran ahead, other times he fell behind. They walked down to the canal and under a bridge to an isolated area. Jon and Robert joked about pushing James into the water.

It was at the canal that they first hurt James. One of them (each blamed the other) picked James up and dropped him on his head. If they were earnest about wanting to murder a baby, why not here and now? They had their opportunity and had made their first assault on the toddler. Yet Jon and Robert ran away, afraid. They weren’t prepared to kill, so they left James alone by the canal wailing.

A woman saw James and assumed he was with some other children nearby. Jon and Robert turned around and walked back toward James. “Come on, baby.” In his utter innocence, little James with a big bruise and cut on his forehead, once again followed his tormentors. They covered the child’s head with the hood of his anorak so that his wound would be less visible. Holding James’s hand, they walked back toward Stanley Road and crossed at a busy intersection. Some saw the child with the tear-streaked face. Some saw the cut on his forehead. It made some of them uneasy, but no one knew what to do. If James had screamed and cried for his mother or if the older boys had acted cruelly, surely someone would have rescued the child. Who could have imagined what was truly taking place? The thought of it impossible to fathom -- these ten-year-old boys were marching a little boy off to be murdered.

“A persuading kick”

After returning from the canal, the boys seemed to have lost their purpose and their direction. They meandered, strolling past shops, halls, offices, and parking lots. A witness on a bus saw the two boys, swinging the toddler’s hands, as he walked between them. A motorist later saw the boys pulling the baby, against his will. He was crying and did not want to go further. He saw Robert kick the baby in the ribs. “A persuading kick,” the witness later described it.

Jon, Robert, and James had walked over a mile by now, along a busy road in Liverpool. It was late afternoon. Many drivers caught in the commute rush hour noticed the boys. A woman saw James running between the two boys and assumed they were playing. At another intersection, James began to cry for his mother again. He ran off and almost ran into traffic, but Robert caught him and pulled him back. Motorists watched the boys as they crossed the street and could see that James was crying, dragging his heels. Some thought James was crying because he was not allowed to run free. But others wondered where the parents were.

Jon carried James by the legs, while Robert held him by the chest. They awkwardly carried the boy to a grassy plateau by a reservoir where they sat on a step and rested, placing James between them. A woman walking her dog passed them by and noticed that little James was laughing. But moments later, another person saw Jon punch James, grabbing him and violently shaking him. For some inexplicable reason, this witness pulled her curtains, shutting out the scene. It was growing dark. (These witnesses would later be called by the papers the “Liverpool 38” and shamed them for turning the other way. Some of the James sightings seem to be justifiable. James laughing, James swinging his hands between two boys, looking like family. But some of the sightings, when the boys were hurting James, or dragging him as he screamed for his mother, are mysteries as to why no one called the authorities.)

“I wish now I had done something.”

At the grassy knoll by the reservoir, an elderly woman noticed the baby, who was obviously hurt. She approached them and asked what the problem was. James was in tears, his face bruised and red.

“We just found him at the bottom of the hill,” Jon and Robert claimed as if they didn’t know him.

She told the boys to take him to the Walton Lane Police Station just down the road and gave them directions there. The little boy’s injuries worried her. She pointed them in the direction of the police, but watched incredulously as they walked off in the opposite direction. She shouted after them, but they didn’t turn back. As she stood there, unsure what to do, another woman who had seen the boys earlier said that James had been laughing. She believed the baby was okay; they were probably inexperienced brothers watching over their younger sibling.

Later that night, the woman saw the news of the missing toddler on television. She immediately called the police and told them about her encounter. “I wish now I had done something,” she said.

The boys walked down the knoll, eventually ending up at County Road. It had been nearly a two-mile hike by now. They stopped inside some of the shops. A woman walking a dog eyed the boys with the toddler and asked what was going on. They told her that they found the lost boy at the Strand and were on their way to the police station. Another concerned woman, who had a little girl with her, overheard the conversation and joined in. “Well,” she said, “you’ve walked a long way from the Strand to Walton Lane Police Station.”

Jon said, “That’s where the man directed us.” When she asked where they lived, Robert was about to answer, but Jon cut him off. “The police station is on our way home.”

Robert let go of James’ hand, as if willing to relinquish him. The women watched Robert as he looked away. He seemed nervous. But then Jon took control. “Get hold of his hand,” he said. Robert once again took James by the hand.

The younger woman with the child looked down at James, who was hurt, and appeared upset. “Are you all right, son?” she asked. James didn’t answer. Jon insisted they would find the station; they would take care of it. But the woman felt something wasn’t right. It was getting dark and the boys weren’t honest. She asked that the other woman with the dog to watch her little girl, who was tired, while she escorted James to the station. But the woman with the dog refused -- her pet did not like children. As the boys took off, the younger woman called out, “Are you sure you know the way?” Jon pointed in the direction. “I’ll go that way, missus.”

They walked into a store. Robert asked the clerk where they could buy some candy for their kid brother. The shopkeeper noticed James’s bruises and scrapes. Then they stopped at a pet shop, where Robert noticed a fish at the bottom of the tank. “It’s dead,” he said to the shopkeeper. The clerk thought it was a little strange how Jon gripped James’s hand, refusing to let him go.

Outside, a fire broke out down the street. They watched for a bit, then crossed heavy traffic to Church Road West. They encountered two older boys who knew Robert and had a pair of trick handcuffs. They planned to use them on Robert and Jon, until they noticed the hurt toddler. “Who is he?” they asked. Robert said it was Jon’s brother, and they were taking him home. The older boy was worried by the toddler’s red-streaked face and injuries. “If you don’t take him home, I’ll batter you,” he later claimed to have said.

Jon and Robert continued on. They came to the entrance of the railway and stopped. It was not too late to abandon the crying baby. The police station was not far off. Some people passed by and one of the boys said loudly, “I’m fed up having my little brother. I have him from school all the time. I’m going to tell my mum I’m not going to mind him no more.” They walked back out toward Walton Lane, and stood close to the heavy traffic. The walked into an alley and as they emerged, someone later remembered seeing James laughing. Jon and Robert were amusing James, playing a game. It was now approximately 5:30 p.m. and night had fallen. The police station was to their right; Robert’s home was to their left. But the boys decided to go back to the railway, avoiding the police station.

With the decision to go to the rail tracks, Jon and Robert’s uncertain and meandering intent now turned deadly. On the way, Jon ripped off the hood of James’s anorak and threw it into the trees. It was this very hood that they had used to conceal his facial wounds. Apparently they decided it was no longer necessary.

The end of the line

At what point along their treacherous journey did Robert and Jon decide to kill James? If murder were intended all along, perhaps they would have been more secretive with their captive. Instead, they paraded him around in busy intersections and shops, as if he were their brother. But now it was night and James was hurt. They had kicked and punched him along the way. If they brought him to the police station, the cops would see James’s freshly inflicted injuries and punish Jon and Robert, perhaps lock them up on the spot. Was it the fear of being caught that the two ten-year-old boys decided to kill James? Or did their desire to inflict further pain on the toddler overwhelm them?

The journey had been long, over two and a half miles. They had spent hours together. They had protected James, holding him back from traffic. They picked him up after ditching him by the canal. Only Jon and Robert know why they took James up the dirt embankment and to the railway. They found a hole in the fence, passed James through, and crossed the grass, kicking up dust as they walked through slabs of white shale to the rail tracks. The police station was just down the hill.

The attack and murder of James Bulger occurred between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m. It began with one of the boys flinging paint on James’s face into his left eye. He screamed. As Blake Morrison points out in his book As If, Jon and Robert probably used the paint to “dehumanize James, to wipe him of his normal features. Splashed in sky color, he looked like something else -- a troll doll or alien -- and was less conscience-troubling to kill.” The boys threw stones at James, kicked him, and beat him with bricks. They pulled off his shoes and pants, perhaps sexually assaulting him. They hit him with an iron bar. When they thought James was dead, they laid his body on the railroad track, covering his bleeding head with bricks. They left before the train came.

A mother’s rage

After the assault, Jon and Robert walked back to town. They went to visit a friend who wasn’t home, but hung out in front of his house anyway. Bored, they ambled over to the video store, one of Robert’s favorite places. Sometimes he ran errands for one of the women behind the counter, including picking up overdue rentals. She offered them a reward if they could collect on a particular past-due rental. Back at the video store, the boys were about to receive their reward when Susan Venables, Jon’s mother, swung through the door, furious. She had been searching for Jon everywhere, including the railroad tracks.

Susan pulled both Jon and Robert out of the video store, screaming and beating them both. Robert ran away. She hauled Jon to the police station and asked the officer on duty to lecture Jon. At home, Jon was in tears. Susan told him that a little boy had been kidnapped from the shopping center -- and whoever the maniac was, he could have taken Jon.

In the meantime, Robert had run home in tears and told his mother how “Jon Venables’ mum ragged me out of the video shop.” Robert’s mother, Ann Thompson, was furious and immediately reported the beating to the police. (As David James Smith, author of Beyond All Reason said, “both boys were immediately back in their more familiar role as victims rather than victimizers.”) At the station, the officer noticed a small scratch under Robert’s left eye. They assumed it was from Susan Venables.

Ten-Year-Old Suspects

“If I seen them lads, I’d kick their heads in.”

James’s disappearance made the evening news and immediately calls poured in. Many believed they had seen the toddler in Walton. After one report that James was spotted by the canal, investigators planned to drag the water in the morning. The police interviewed Ralph and Denise Bulger, retracing her steps at the Bootle Strand. As with most child abductions, the parents are routinely considered suspects. But police had too many leads, which took the focus away from the Bulgers. After midnight on the day James disappeared, authorities watched the security videos taken at the shopping center, hoping to catch a glimpse of his abductor. They were especially interested in reports of an older man with a ponytail who was at the Strand, who witnesses say approached other children that day.

James’s video image eventually scattered across the television screen. There he was, with two boys, not the ponytail man. Blurry, jumpy images, almost ghostlike. As they watched in disbelief, they realized they were not dealing with an older pedophile, but two young boys, children themselves. There was no way to identify the two older boys, but the baby’s clothing matched Denise’s description. They played the tape over and over, watching in horror as James was led toward the exit. Why would two children take another child? Police could understand the motives of a pedophile, but this was incomprehensible.

The next morning underwater searchers grimly searched the canal. Other searches organized to find James on land. Police released the video stills of the boys to the media, which appeared on television and in the papers. They hoped someone would recognize the boys, but unfortunately, the boys were so fuzzy that it could have been just about any neighborhood kid. Mothers suspected their sons. Ann Thompson asked Robert outright if that was him on the video. He denied it. Ann worried and confided her fears to a friend and even threatened to take him to the police.

On Sunday morning, a train engineer noticed something on the tracks that looked like a doll. At first it didn’t strike him as unusual -- neighborhood kids routinely laid things out on the tracks. But after he thought about the missing child, he called the police that evening.

“It’s a cat. It’s a cat wrapped up. Then we seen its legs.”

Four boys found James’s body on the tracks on Sunday afternoon, when they went up to the railroad to look for footballs. At first they thought he was cat, then a doll, torn into two. Jon and Robert had laid out James directly on the track, aware that a train would come by soon. Perhaps they believed that the community would think it was an accident that James had wandered up to the tracks on his own and was run over. Or that if the train hit James, it would destroy all clues.

His upper body was hidden within the coat. His lower body was further down the tracks, completely undressed. He had suffered 42 injuries, most to his face and head and had not died during the attack, but some time before the train hit him. Jon and Robert had left him while he was still alive.

The crime scene at the tracks

Investigators stopped all approaching trains. Led by Detective Albert Kirby, police roped off the tracks and shielded the scene from bystanders and reporters. James’s body had been severed with some distance in between. It was as if there were two crime scenes, two bodies to examine. The upper part of his body, at first, appeared to be nothing more than a bundle of clothing. His lower half, however, was starkly naked. Police determined that James had been laid by the waist onto the rail, with his upper body on the inside of the tracks. It looked as if his head had been covered with bricks, but the force of the train disturbed the arrangement. The lower half of his body had been carried further down the track.

His clothing, which had been removed from the waist down, was laid near his head. His underwear was heavily soaked with blood. Nearby police found a heavy iron bar, two feet long, with bloodstains, and many bricks and stones with blood. They also found 3 AA batteries near the body. These batteries intrigued the investigators, who had suspicions about their placement before James was hit by the train. A tin of blue paint was also found nearby. James had been severely beaten around the head and neck. There had been fractures, cuts, bruises caused by blows from heavy blunt objects and there had been severe bleeding. On one cheek, a patterned bruise appeared, which indicated the imprint from a shoe. Although there was no conclusive evidence indicating a sexual assault, forensic specialists believed that some of the injuries below the waist were suspicious and sexual in nature.

Even the most experienced investigators were shocked and dismayed by the injuries to James. “You slip into professional mode, but you can never, ever forget,” said Kirby, years later. It was bad enough that he had been abducted and murdered, but the beating was brutal, incomprehensible. Although it was common knowledge that a train had severed James's body (the kids who discovered him were already talking to reporters), the police decided to withhold the nature of the James’s injuries from the public.

Denise Bulger, who had been at the police station since her son’s disappearance, sensed something was going on. Suddenly, the office was buzzing and police were mobilizing. When she heard that a body had been discovered, she became horribly distressed. There was nothing she could do but wait, hysterical but contained in the claustrophobic station, anticipating the terrible confirmation that they had found James.

Robert later brought a single rose to the crime scene. Other Merseyside mourners had created a makeshift memorial for James near the railway. Robert noticed that television crews were filming the mourners and later argued that if he had killed James, why would he bring a flower for the baby?

At home, Jon showed an intense interest in the story of James’s disappearance. He asked his mother if they caught the boys. “If I seen them lads, I’d kick their heads in,” he said. On Sunday, when his mother told Jon that the little boy had been found dead by the railroad, Jon expressed concern for “his poor mum.” Neil, Jon’s father, asked him about the blue paint on his coat sleeve and Jon said Robert threw it at him. When the news reported that blue paint had been found on the boy’s body, the Venables did not openly suspect their son, even though he had missed school the day James was murdered and wore a “mustard” colored jacket, the same as the boy in the video.

Perhaps even more outrageous than the brutality of the murder was the search for suspects, who were only boys themselves. How to find the killers? Police would check Friday’s absentee lists from schools and held press conferences, partially in hope of finding more witnesses, but also to keep the public calm. It was as if a witch hunt developed overnight in Merseyside, but this time the suspects were boys. Reports came in casting blame on one bad child or another. Even parents called the station to report their own kids as suspects. When police arrested one suspicious 12-year-old boy, residents were so furious that they attacked his house and broke the windows after a mob of police led the boy away. His family had to be moved and the boy hadn’t even been officially charged with the crime.

A mother suspects her son

An anonymous woman called the police station, reporting that her friend Susan Venables had a son named Jon, who had skipped school Friday and had blue paint on his jacket sleeve. He resembled the boy in the video. She said he had a friend named Robert Thompson, with whom he skipped school that day. With no other solid leads, investigators decided that Jon and Robert should be brought in for questioning.

At 7:30 in the morning on Thursday, February 18, four police officers appeared on Ann Thompson’s doorstep with a search warrant. When Robert realized that he was a suspect, he began to cry. They rounded up his clothes and immediately noticed that there was blood on his shoes.

When they came for Jon Venables, his mother Susan answered the door and said, snidely, “I knew you’d be here. I told him you’d want to see him for sagging school on Friday.” Susan mentioned that Jon “came home on Friday, coat full of paint.” Officers promptly asked for Jon’s mustard-yellow coat, which had indeed been splattered with blue paint. It even appeared that there was a small handprint on the sleeve. Jon grabbed hold of his mother and sobbed. “I don’t want to go to prison, mum. I didn’t kill the baby.” He cried hysterically. “It’s that Robert Thompson. He always gets me into trouble.” Through tears, Jon told police they should speak to Robert. As they drove him to the police station, Jon continued to ask about Robert. Had they arrested him yet, and where were they taking him?

Despite Robert and Jon’s distressed reactions to being arrested, the police did not immediately suspect that they were the killers. They were simply following up on a tip. There were other boys with violent records out there and, besides, the boys in the Strand video looked to be 13 or 14 years old. Jon and Robert were small, still little kids themselves. But, following procedure, investigators interviewed Jon at the Lower Lane police station and Robert at the Walton Lane police station, which was just down the slope from where James had been killed.

The boys, especially Jon, were both terrified and fascinated by the police procedure. As they took Jon’s fingerprints, he nervously asked how fingerprints worked. They seemed like invisible ink, magical to him. “Do you leave these on whatever you touch?” he asked. “If you touch someone’s skin does it leave a fingerprint? If you drag someone really hard, do you leave your nails in his skin?” He wanted to know if they were taking Robert Thompson’s prints too. Police took blood, hair, and fingernail samples from both boys.

In the meantime, a shopkeeper from the Strand called the police. The boys from the video might have been in their store on the day James disappeared, so police came down and took fingerprints. Jon’s were matched.

Robert Denies, Jon Cries

The interviews:  Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson was interviewed on Thursday, the same day he was brought in, by Detective Sergeant Phil Roberts and Detective Constable Bob Jacobs. The interview was recorded with his mother Ann sitting by, along with legal representation. Questioning a ten-year-old boy for murder would be difficult. It was hard to know if Robert even grasped his legal rights. They asked him if he knew the difference between truth and lies. Robert said he understood, but during the course of the interview, he slipped between the two with ease. Robert was used to skirmishing around with the truth, but usually over petty things, like whether he went to school that day or where his homework was. He replied to difficult questions with a bratty, “well, I was there, and you weren’t” or “that’s what you think.” But Robert’s lying skills would soon snap like cheap clips under the weight of the charges.

Robert admitted that he and Jon skipped school on Friday and went to the Strand shopping center, where they walked around, looking at the shops. Trying to sound like a witness, not a suspect, Robert claimed that he saw James with his mother while he and Jon were on the escalator. This struck the investigators as odd -- why would Robert take notice of this little boy with his mother? The shopping center was filled with mothers and children. But he insisted that he saw James with Mrs. Bulger. Robert then claimed that he and Jon left the Strand, went to the library and then home.

During a break, both investigative teams conferred. Jon had said that he was with Robert, but would not admit to going to the Strand. Upon commencing the interview, the detectives asked Robert why he thought Jon would lie about being at the Strand.

Robert thought that perhaps Jon did do something bad. He might have made the baby follow them and then lost him somewhere, but Robert didn’t know because he didn’t look behind his shoulder. When investigators said that he had the same jacket as one of the boys in the video, Robert replied, “Many jackets get sold the same as mine.” But what about Jon’s more distinctive jacket? “Yeah, well, he’s not walking along with me.” Throughout the interview, Robert’s responses were unflustered. He has been a tough guy all of his life and knew how to keep his cool. He admitted nothing.

Detective Roberts:  We believe that you left with baby James and with Jon.
Robert Thompson:  Who says?
Detective Roberts:  We say, now.
Robert Thompson:  No. I never left with him.
Detective Roberts:  Well, tell me what happened, then.
Robert Thompson:  It shows in the paper that Jon had hold of his hand.

He had slyly implicated Jon without admitting to have seen him do it. But he had also claimed to be with Jon all day. It was only moments before he would be cornered into admitting more. Robert sometimes cried when he was caught in a lie, but detectives were suspicious of his sorrow. No tears and the crying suddenly stopped when the pressure was off. He began to sob, “I never touched him.”

Robert had now admitted that Jon had James by the hand, and that they walked around, but let him go by the church. Upset, Robert lamented that he’s going to get all the blame for murdering him.

Finally, late in the evening, Robert was told that he was being detained and could not go home. “Why do I have to stay here?” he asked. “Jon’s the one that took the baby.”

The next morning, Robert said that he left Jon and James by the railway after Jon threw paint at James’s eye and had no idea what happened after that. But when the investigators asked if he stole batteries, Robert’s face grew crimson (“Yeah, well, I’m hot.”) He denied it, but was obviously deeply embarrassed by the mention of the batteries.

Breakthrough

After more hours of Robert’s denials and eventual admissions, his mother Ann tells her son that it will be easier if he just tells the truth. Robert has been sobbing.

Robert Thompson:  Jon threw a brick in his face.
Ann Thompson:  Why?
Robert Thompson:  I don’t know.
Detective Roberts:  Right, try to think. Right, let’s see what we’ve got, we’re getting there, aren’t we? We’re getting to the truth now.
Robert Thompson:  Yeah, well, I’m going to end up getting all the blame ‘cause I’ve got blood on me.

Robert goes on to describe Jon in an out-of-control killing frenzy. He claimed Jon threw more bricks at the baby, and then hit him with a “big metal thing with holes in it.” Then Jon hit James with a stick. James was lying there, still, eyes open, across the tracks. Jon had the batteries and threw one of them at James’s face. All the time Robert said he was trying to pull Jon away, screaming at him to stop.

Astounded, the detectives asked, “Why did Jon do all this?” Robert didn’t know. “I only pinched,” he said. When investigators tell Robert they think he hit James too, he replied, “Well, that’s what you think.”

Robert cried for himself, but showed genuine concern for his mother, who sat through the interviews in utter disbelief. Many of Robert’s responses were directed at his mom:  “I tried to get him off, he just kept hittin’ him and hittin’ him and hittin him and I couldn’t do nuttin’ about it.” When she asked why he brought a rose to James’s memorial, he said, “‘Cause then baby James knows I tried to help him up there and I’m thinking of him now.” Robert also expressed some fear about being haunted by the murdered baby.

The next day, Saturday, Robert admitted to touching James, but he said it was because he was trying to move him off of the track. (This is his excuse for the blood on his shoes.) He put James down, however, when he saw how much blood there was. He was afraid his mother would be mad at him for staining his clothes with blood. Throughout the interviews, Robert worried that Jon would get off easy. At one point he cried, “Well, you can go ask our teacher who’s the worst out of me and Jon and she’ll tell you Jon.” He also said that he had his own little baby brother Ben. “Why would I want to kill him,” Robert said, “when I’ve got a baby of me own? If I wanted to kill a baby, I’d kill me own, wouldn’t I?”

“I’m not a pervert”

Detectives saved the most difficult questions for last. James had some trauma to his genitals, and police believed that one (or both) of the boys had inserted AA batteries into his rectum. These questions upset Robert more than any other accusations. When they asked who removed James’s pants and underwear, he began to cry. “I’m not a pervert, you know,” he said, suddenly agitated. “Well, how would you like me calling you a pervert?” Normally collected, Robert lost it. “He said I’m a pervert, they said I’ve played with his willy,” he told his mom, and refused to answer any more questions. But the detectives persisted. “What would Jon say you did to James?” they asked. Robert was greatly upset by now. He said Jon would say he took off James’s pants and played with his “privates.”

Toward the end of the interviews, Robert said that Jon tried to cover up James’s head with stones, but he admitted to putting one brick on, to stop all of the bleeding.

The interviews:  Jon Venables

While Robert, for a good portion of the process, kept control of his composure and sparred with his interviewers, Jon was hysterical from the start. He was extremely scared and intimidated by the investigators. They had to halt the questions when Jon became so distressed that he couldn’t speak, which was often. He didn’t lie as much as he avoided the truth. After he calmed down and was encouraged to be honest, Jon would admit to some things (unlike Robert, who denied everything.)

His mother Susan was there and her presence upset Jon. It was only after the detectives pulled her and Jon’s father Neil aside and asked them to reassure Jon that they would love him no matter what happened, that Jon was able to admit to his participation.

On the first morning of the interviews, Jon wanted to put down Robert. Robert was the bad one, the troublemaker, and he avoided Robert at school. Robert mostly played with girls because everyone else thought he was bad. “He’s much of a girl,” he said. Jon talked about how Robert collected troll dolls, the naked ones:  “It shows you their bum and that.” Jon said Robert sucked his thumb. Yet Jon sounded enamored with Robert and his willingness to do bad things. He talked about how Robert “sags” and how they go stealing together, and said it was exciting being with Robert. He did things with Robert that he didn’t do with other “good” friends. He wouldn’t do bad things on his own -- “I’m too scared.”

On Friday, the day of the crime, Jon said it was Robert’s idea to miss school. Jon spun a long yarn about the details of the day:  they went to a park, the old railways, and to a cemetery, where Robert wanted to steal the flowers, but Jon said no. Jon said that Robert stole paint and threw it at Jon. As elaborate as Jon’s story was, he made no mention of the Bootle Strand. When he later heard that Robert admitted they had gone to the Strand, Jon cried that Robert was lying.

Detective Dale:  You see, Robert says that he was with you, and that you were indeed in Bootle New Strand together.
Jon Venables:  We wasn’t.
Detective Dale:  Robert says you were.
Jon Venables:  Yeah, we was, but we never saw any kids there. We never robbed any kids.
Detective Dale:  So you were in the Bootle New Strand.
Susan Venables:  (shouting in anger) Was you in Bootle Strand?
Jon Venables:  (in tears) Yeah, but we never got a kid, Mum. We never…we never got a kid.
Detective Dale:  Mrs. Venables, would you? I must ask you not to get angry with him.
Jon Venables:  (in hysterics) But we never got a kid, Mum. We never. We saw those two lads together, we did. We never got a kid, Mum. Mum, we never got a kid. You think we did. We never, Mum, we never.

At this point Jon was deeply distraught and wouldn’t sit down. Susan said, “If I would’ve known all this now, Jon, I would’ve had you down the police station right away, instead of them banging on my front door and making a show of me in the street...”

“I did kill him”

The next morning, investigators confronted Jon with more of Robert’s version of events. Robert claimed that Jon took the baby. Jon jumped out of his seat. “I haven’t touched a boy,” he screamed over and over. “I never killed him. Mum, Mum, we took him and left him at the canal. Mum, that’s all,” he cried to Susan. They asked how did they get the baby at Strand? He was just walking around on his own, he claimed. Jon saw that he was contradicting himself, telling obvious lies. The more cornered (and the closer he got to the truth) he was, the more distressed he grew.

The detectives believed that Jon wanted to tell the truth, but he was scared by what his mother would think. After both Susan and Neil Venables reassured Jon they’d love him no matter what and urged him to tell the truth. Jon climbed into his mother’s lap and sobbed.

“I did kill him,” said Jon. “What about his mum, will you tell her I’m sorry?”

This was what investigators needed. Jon had admitted it, plain and simple. But they were curious about the “I” in the confession. They were sure Robert participated -- the question was, to what extent.

The interviews continued later on in the day. Jon said that Robert stole paint at a toy store in the Strand. They saw a child and Robert said, “Let’s get this kid lost.” The two boys brought him through the TJ Hughes department store until his mother found them. They saw James in front of the butcher shop. Jon confessed that he walked toward the baby and took him by the hand, but it was Robert’s idea to kill him. As they walked around, Jon said they thought about looking for his mother, but Robert suggested that they throw him in the water at the canal. Robert tried to get the toddler to lean toward the water, hoping he would lose his balance and fall, but James wouldn’t go to the water’s edge. Jon then said that Robert picked up James and threw him down. Scared, they ran away, but came back, Jon couldn’t say why. They just wanted to walk around with the baby. Jon admitted that he took the hood off James’s anorak and threw it up into a tree as they walked toward the railway. But this is as far as he would go for now. The closer they got to the murder, the more upset Jon became. He did not want to talk about the “worst bit.”

The “worst bit”

When Jon was willing to talk, he blamed the violence on Robert. “We took him to the railway and started throwing bricks at him.” When asked who threw the bricks, Jon said, Robert, who also threw the metal pole. Jon admitted to throwing two bricks, “only teeny, little stones,” and only on the arms, not his head.

According to Jon, Robert threw the blue paint in James’s face. James began to cry, and Robert asked, “Is your head hurting, we’ll get a plaster on,” and he lifted a brick and threw it at James’s head. James screamed and fell back, but got up again. Jon said at one point he tried to pull Robert back. James just kept getting back up and Robert was saying, stay down. Robert was shouting and calling James bad names. After Robert hit him with iron bar, James fell onto his stomach on the tracks and both boys ran. Jon claimed he then said to Robert, “Don’t you think we’ve done enough now?”

Jon said that he was never mad at James:  “No, I didn’t really want to hurt him, I didn’t want to hurt him or nothing ‘cause I didn’t want to hurt him with strong things, only like light things… I deliberately missed...” He also said that it was Robert who pulled off James’s pants and underwear. Jon did help by pulling his shoes off, but he couldn’t say why. He said Robert picked up the underwear and covered James’s face. Although Jon claimed to feel no anger toward the baby, he showed physical signs of agitation during the interview when talking about his murder, including clenching his fist.

Jon said he kicked James, but “only light,” and punched him light in the chest and face. He guessed that Robert had kicked James in the groin about ten times and kicked him in the face. I’d never done it before,” said Jon.

But when the subject of batteries came up, Jon became hysterical once again and started to cry. “I didn’t know anything about what Robert did with the batteries.” Jon was afraid that “you’ll blame it on me that I had them.” Asked if Robert did anything else to James’s genitals, Jon grew very upset, began to punch his father, Neil, who sat beside him.

Charged with murder

By Saturday, both Robert and Jon were exhausted and distraught. The investigators knew they had enough to prosecute the boys and concluded the interviews. While both boys had been difficult, they both had been informative in different ways. Robert denied and called other witnesses liars, but when he did talk, he seemed to be closer to the truth. He was definitely the more manipulative of the two, and cried only when it suited him. Jon, on the other hand, consistently blamed Robert for everything, but finally did admit to more than Robert had. His lies were more elaborate, but he was also quicker to admit to his lies. It was mostly Jon’s incredible distress that hindered the process of getting to the truth.

The Walton police decided to take the boys on a drive to verify the route they walked with James. Jon went first in an unmarked car. He asked the police, “can fingerprints come out on skin?” When they took Robert out, he was worried about encountering Jon. Indeed, both boys were anxious about seeing each other after the crime. Were they mad at each other, or afraid the other would be angry about the lies the other had told?

On Saturday at 6:15 p.m., Jon was charged with the abduction and murder of James. (Authorities also charged both boys with an attempted abduction of the other child at TJ Hughes.) Jon sat and drew on some paper while waiting for the charge to be read, crying only when his mother cried. When Robert was charged that same night, he simply responded, “It was Jon that done that.”

Both boys were detained until their trial, set for November of 1993. They would undergo psychiatric evaluations and additional interviews. In the meantime, the British court system had to prepare accommodations for the two young defendants.

The Trial

“The violent child is the most potent image of violated innocence that we have. If humankind is capable of this, then perhaps we are beyond redemption.” -- Ian McEwan

The Merseyside community was flabbergasted at the age of the suspects, but relieved that they had been charged. On Monday, reporters swarmed the school where Jon and Robert were students, trying to get pictures of the young suspects and to interview classmates. One child took Robert’s chair and chanted, “I’m in the murderer’s seat!” But not everyone was relieved. The Venables and Thompson families were forced to flee the angry mobs that gathered around their homes.

Prior to the trial, the Sun newspaper published a picture of Jon with a lollipop on his way to court, accompanied by an article, which berated the juveniles’ “lush” lives behind bars. The public was infuriated that these suspects were being treated to such supposed luxuries.

Jon and Robert presumed false identities for their own safety. They were housed in special secure units, separate from one another, where they pretended to be older, and convicted of crimes other than the murder of James Bulger. Some argued that this encouraged the boys to suppress the truth about what happened. Neither Jon nor Robert would receive counseling before trial because it might affect their memories of the event. As it currently stood, both kids were in denial of the beatings and murder, each blaming the other for the most brutal acts. Only Jon’s admission “I did kill him” indicated any kind of culpability for either boy.

On May 14th, 1993, both Jon and Robert appeared at the Liverpool Crown Court to enter their pleas of “not guilty.” The case would be tried in Preston, which was closer to the boys’ secure units. Jon hyperventilated during the court hearing and could not participate in the police line-ups because he was too distraught. Both the prosecution and defense worried about his ability to participate in his own defense.

Jon’s psychological profile

Police interviewed the parents of both boys. The Venables believed that Jon was a good kid, well behaved but sometimes hyperactive. Susan worried that Jon was the victim of bullies at school and insisted that this was the reason that Jon was moved from one school to another. At his new school, Susan believed that Jon befriended Robert Thompson because he felt sorry for him. But she worried that Robert was bullying Jon.

Jon’s older brother Mark had speech and learning disabilities and was sent to a special school. He also exhibited an uncontrollable temper. Jon’s younger sister, Michele, also became a special needs student. Jon was in the middle and perhaps jealous of the extra attention his siblings received. Jon’s parents repeatedly split and reunited, which undermined his sense of security in the family. Jon exhibited low self-esteem and seemed defensive if anyone suggested his family was not ideal. It was as if he was working hard to hide something.

Dr. Susan Bailey, who examined Jon for the trial, believed that there were no organic disability or brain damage, which caused Jon’s behavioral problems. She concluded that he was fit to stand trial. Psychological reports assured that Jon did not suffer from any severe mental illnesses, including depression or hallucinations. He was anxious, fidgety, and temperamentally fragile. Jon could be easily distressed and was unable to discuss the murder. (He did, however, report to his mother about flashbacks that haunted him, particularly disturbing images of blood spurting out of James’s mouth. Jon also had rescue fantasies, dreaming that he saved James from harm and returned him safely to his mother.)

It was important to establish that Jon understood the permanence of death, which would affect his understanding of the severity of his crime. Jon said that death meant that people could not come back, and had an idea of heaven and hell as permanent places. In fact, he claimed to be scared of television violence. If there was a scene in a movie with “blood coming out,” Jon said he’d turn away from the screen and put his fingers in his ears.

Psychiatrists were interested in Jon’s intense relationship with his mother. If Jon had three magic wishes, they would be:  1) to be free from the secure unit; 2) to turn the world into chocolate factory, and 3) to live forever, with money, no accidents, or illnesses. If he could be anyone, he’d be Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky, or Sonic the Hedgehog, because he “ran fast and saved his friends.”

Robert’s psychological profile

Whereas Jon was unwilling to talk about the murder, Robert was at least willing to reenact his version. Psychiatrist Eileen Vizard met with Robert and brought some dolls that represented the primary characters in the crime. There was also a railroad track laid out and miniature weapons that were used in the assault. As Robert picked up the dolls and moved them through the motions of the murder, he demonstrated how the “Jon doll” senselessly beat the “James doll,” while the “Robert doll” tried to stop the attack. Robert showed how he tried to pull Jon away and how they fell backwards in the struggle. But he couldn’t explain how the “James doll” sustained any sexual damage. When the psychiatrist continued to ask about any sexual abuse, Robert became increasingly defensive and agitated. He was willing to reenact everything else, why not this? When the psychiatrist brought up the possibility that the entire attack was sexually motivated, Robert hardly reacted, as if he wasn’t surprised. But he didn’t deny or confirm the possibility.

How did Robert feel about James? Robert didn’t have much to say, except that James was more quiet than his own baby brother Ben, and that James asked for his mother all of the time. Robert described how Jon didn’t like babies, but that Robert did. He wished that he could kick Jon’s face in. Go ahead, said the psychiatrist, referring to the dolls. Robert acted out one doll beating up on the other.

When Robert discussed his family with the psychiatrist, she found that Robert was defensive about his mother’s drinking. He had a repetitive nightmare in which he was chasing someone, running into the street and then being struck by a car.

In the end, the psychiatrist reported that Robert was of above average intelligence, and exhibited no sign of mental illness or depression, but that he was currently displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

November 1, 1993:  Trial begins

In order to allow the defendants to see above the railings, the Preston Crown Court built a special raised platform on which the two boys would sit during the trial. (It would later be argued that this extraordinary “displaying” of the defendants constituted an unfair trial.) Carpenters bolted down the chairs in public gallery so that no one could throw them. The hours of the trial approximated school day hours, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The boys would be tried together. Presiding Judge Sir Michael Morland ruled that the boys be known as Child A and Child B (Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, respectively.) Although the defendants were supposedly anonymous by name, everyone got a good look at them, and watched their behavior closely. On the raised platform sat Robert, heavier than before, and looking older than his now 11 years. He stared ahead, or up at the ceiling, kicked off his shoes, and yawned. He showed little emotion. Onlookers assumed Robert was the “guilty one.” He had no family present and sat glumly next to his social worker, who showed little affection toward him. Like author Frank Jones, many believe that in cases where two children are involved, one is usually the ringleader, the other a more passive follower. Spectators were convinced that burly, unemotional Robert was the instigator of James Bulger’s murder.

Jon, on the other hand, won some sympathy with court observers. He seemed more contrite, anxious, constantly looking back at his mother for her support. In his book “As If,” Blake Morrison describes the sight of Jon and Robert on the platform:  “I look at Jon, and he reminds me of a gerbil. A hamster, anyway:  the bright, darting eyes; how, when he’s upset, he beds down and disappears in the lapels of his jacket; his blinking at the noise and the light. Robert is squatter, porkier, more of a guinea pig, an aggressive one at times. Jon flicks him nervous glances, seeking reassurance; Robert ignores them, putting the squirt in his place. Jon seems to be in thrall of Robert.”

The Bulger family attended each day, except for Denise, who was now seven months pregnant. She was, understandably, horribly upset, and her mourning had been disturbed by the incessant media attention.

Robert’s defense attorney David Turner immediately suggested that a fair trial was impossible. Inflammatory papers called the boys evil, demonic, monsters, fiends. He also requested that two evidence photos of James’s head injuries be removed because of their potential emotional effect on the jury. But the judge denied both requests. Jon’s attorney, Brian Walsh, was more reserved in his requests.

The prosecution, led by Richard Henriques, presented their case, contending that both boys took part in James Bulger’s death. Because both defendants were under the age of 14, the prosecution had to prove they knew that their actions were severely wrong. “You can properly be satisfied that each of them knew it was seriously wrong to take a young child from his mother, to try to do so, and to use such extreme violence on a child of such tender years.” As the jury received files, which included photos of the crime, they were visibly moved. Jon’s mother also began to cry and Jon leaned over the rail to see if she was all right.

The witnesses, or “The Liverpool 38” as the tabloids called them, took the stand, one by one, and confirmed the boys’ route. Many changed their story from their original police statements, in response to the guilt that they had not done something to stop the deadly march. A cabby testified that he saw Jon jerk the boy up violently. One woman on the bus saw the two boys swinging James and made a comment to her daughter, according to her police statement. But in court she claimed she shouted at the sight of the boys and that the whole bus had turned to gawk. The elderly woman with the dog, who saw them at the reservoir, felt a lot of guilt for not helping and also changed her statement. While these passive witnesses may deserve some recrimination for not intervening, who could have known that the little boy was going to be killed by the older boys that held his hands as they walked? As Judge Morland later said, “many of the witnesses were doing the humdrum things of everyday life on that Friday afternoon when, wholly unawares, they were caught up in the last few tragic hours of James Bulger’s tragic life.”

Jon and Robert did not participate in trial -- they did not take the stand and the court rarely addressed them. They were incapable of understanding the procedures. Denise Bulger, who didn’t appear, had her statement read to the jury. They watched as the evidence clearly indicated their guilt: the Strand security videos, blood-splattered bricks, stones, clothing, a tin of blue paint, and a heavy bar. Forensic scientists gave assessments of James’s injuries, which were so numerous, that they couldn’t determine which one caused his death. One particular imprint on James’s cheek was conclusively linked to Robert’s bloody shoe, indicating that he was an indisputable participant.

“doli incapax”

Did the boys know the difference between right and wrong? This was an important issue for the prosecution. The Victorian concept of “doli incapax” was established to protect innocent (and ignorant) children from corporeal punishment. In an earlier era, wild street children were executed for their crimes. “Doli incapax” meant that children were incapable of wrongdoing because they cannot grasp the consequences of their actions. To this point, Jon and Robert’s teachers testified. Psychiatrists took the stand, believing both defendants knew the severity of their crime. The court then played the recorded police interviews, which also revealed their understanding of the charges. Jon’s hysterical, high-pitched crying affected many who heard it. It was at this point in the trial that the boys paid close attention. Each was interested in what the other had said and indignantly listened as they accused each other of the murder. Robert, who tried to appear cool and tough throughout the trial, was upset when he heard Jon claim that Robert was like a girl because he played with dolls. Jon sheepishly watched Robert’s reactions when he accused him of beating James.

In the closing argument, the prosecution portrayed the boys as equally liable:  “They preferred, you may think, to avoid detection, which was clearly a greater priority than James’s well-being. Together they abused James. Robert Thompson delivered a persuasive kick, while Jon Venables chose to shake James. Venables led him from the Strand, with Thompson leading the way…At the tracks their roles reversed. Thompson carried him up on the railway embankment with Venables leading the way. They each heard each other lie to adults…if ever a crime was committed jointly and together, then this was that crime. They were clearly both together as James sustained his terrible injuries.”

The defense countered:  Neither of these boys had done anything violent before, only shoplifting and truancy. This was a mischievous prank gone out of control. If they had planned to kill a child, they could have drowned him at the canal, or thrown him in traffic, but they didn’t. If the plan was to kill him at a railroad, why walk along one of the busiest stretches in Liverpool and converse with potential witnesses? They told adults they found the child -- if they were set on killing him, why allow adults the opportunity to intervene? Robert’s lawyer Turner argued that Jon and Robert were tired, unaware how to end their own prank, and did not know what to do with James. They were afraid of abandoning him or handing him over to a grown-up. Turner argued that it was Jon who was in control, and reminded the jury that Jon admitted, “I did kill him.” Brian Walsh, Jon’s defendant, said, “the two defendants are in fact very different boys.” Walsh tried to summon sympathy for Jon by casting Robert as the bad one, which was easy for most to believe. Walsh claimed Jon admitted to some involvement, but he didn’t want to kill James.

The judge then turned to the jury and said it wasn’t an issue of whether Jon or Robert intended to kill James at the time of the abduction or while they walked. The question was, did Jon or Robert intend to murder James at the railway? After more precise instructions, the jury began deliberation on Wednesday, November 24, more than 3 weeks after the trial had begun.

The verdict

As he waited, Robert knit gloves for his baby brother and said he knew that they would find him guilty. The verdict came in that afternoon. For the first time, Denise set foot in the courtroom with her husband Roger by her side. As expected, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were found guilty. Jon sobbed while Robert sat motionless.

The Judge addressed the boys:  “The killing of James Bulger was an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity. This child of two was taken from his mother on a journey of over two miles and then, on the railway line, was battered to death without mercy. Then his body was placed across the railway line so it would be run over by a train in an attempt to conceal his murder. In my judgment your conduct was both cunning and very wicked.”

“This sentence that I pass upon you both is that you should be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure, in such a place and under such conditions as the Secretary of State may now decide. You will be securely detained for very, very many years, until the Home Secretary is satisfied that you have matured and are fully rehabilitated and until you are no longer a danger.” The judge also allowed that the media be allowed to publish the boys’ names.

From the gallery, someone shouted, “How do you feel now, you little bastards?”

Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson was the tough one, the one everyone assumed to be the ringleader in the case. But Robert’s personality was constructed not so much out of aggression as for the purposes of defense. He lived in a rough, even brutal environment. To survive the multiple assaults of his five older brothers and alcoholic mother, Robert developed a flinty edge. He didn’t look for trouble as much as he tried to slip out and away from it. When cornered, he would lie, cry, or take his beating with defiance.

Robert’s father beat his wife mercilessly, and then abandoned the family for good. Robert Thompson Senior’s own upbringing paralleled his sons:  left without adult supervision, the older brothers bullied the younger brothers into submission.

His mother also came from an abusive family. At the age of 18, Ann married Robert Thompson Sr., also 18, to escape the severe beatings from her father. But with the new family came a new round of beatings. Like her father, Ann’s new husband was an aggressive alcoholic. He beat Ann in front of the boys and Ann, out of frustration and fear, pummeled her sons with sticks and belts. She attempted suicide with pill overdoses, but eventually turned to drinking as her means of escape. The six brothers were left to their own devices, left to watch out for one another. But instead of protecting each other, they needed protection from each other. Predictably, the oldest beat the youngest, and the vulnerable turned to the younger, the more vulnerable.

At the age of four, the eldest Thompson boy was placed in child protective services after he had been abused. It was downhill from there. Another sibling became a master thief, taking little Robert with him on his adventures. One brother was an arsonist and suspected of sexually abusing young children (Robert may have been a victim himself.) Another brother threatened his teachers with violence. When the eldest had to baby-sit the youngest, they would lock them in the pigeon shed. One of the brothers left to stay in a voluntary care center. Others attempted suicide. The police and social workers knew the Thompson boys well. Whenever a crime was committed, the Thompsons were checked. Not surprisingly, all of the Thompsons were truants and learned to despise authority.

Robert was the fifth child out of the six brothers. He did try to be a good son. Robert would help his mother in the kitchen, trying to please her, and provide some support. He babysat his mother’s seventh child, baby Ben, who had a different father. Robert was not aggressive as much as sly. A poor student, he skipped school, but when he did attend he was not considered a troublemaker. Teachers thought he was shy and quiet, yet manipulative of others. Robert was both hindered by his reputation as a Thompson, but also seemed to hide behind it. Teachers didn’t expect much from him and other kids avoided him. Jon would become one of his few friends.

Sometimes he talked tough, trying to act the role of a “Thompson,” but he was not considered violent or aggressive. He was mostly a truant, known to roam the streets of Walton at 1 a.m. His mother Ann sometimes hid his shoes to keep him home. If it were his shoes that kept him from leaving the house, it would be his shoes that would ultimately take him out of his home for good. Robert’s bloodied shoes were key forensic evidence linking him to the beating of James. Even his shoelaces were indelibly imprinted on James’s cheek.

Unfortunately, Robert’s abuse at the hands of his older brothers began to repeat in his treatment of his younger brother Ryan. He intimidated his younger brother, but they shared a strange bond. At night, they would lie in bed together, sucking one another’s thumb. (During the course of Robert’s trial Ryan began exhibiting increasingly disturbing behavior. He wet his bed regularly, set fires in his room, and gained weight. He seemed jealous of the attention his brother Robert received and his mother Ann was fearful that he would do something equally horrible to get the same treatment. Extraordinary violence was proving to be an effective ticket out of the hellish Thompson household.)

Robert’s relationship with Ryan may provide some rough blueprints to the crime against James Bulger. Robert bullied Ryan into skipping school and accompanying him on his adventures. He once abandoned the distraught Ryan at the canal, the same place where Jon and Robert temporarily left James. Robert said himself, “If I wanted to kill a baby, I’d kill my own, wouldn’t I?” As if he had been considering it.

Journalist David James Smith proposed that it was likely that Robert initiated the plan to steal a child, perhaps as a way to act out his anger toward Baby Ben, who was 18 months at the time. James might have been a “stand-in sibling” for Robert. Not only was Robert replicating the treatment he received at the hands of his older brothers, he might also have been jealous of the younger Ryan and Ben. As a ten year-old boy, Robert could only exert power and control over those younger than him. But this does not mean that Robert initiated the violence against James. Once they had the child, Jon seemed to exert control over keeping him. It was Jon that beckoned the children away from their parents. At one point in their journey, when confronted by an adult, Robert, who was holding James by the hand, let go of the boy, and looked away, as if he wanted to leave. But Jon said to Robert, take back his hand. Robert obeyed.

Robert took the brunt of the bad press during the trial. One journalist reported that the Thompson kid was “staring him down,” as if he were a mini-Charles Manson. Robert had developed a tough guy act as a survival strategy, but this was used against him during the trial. He appeared unremorseful and hardened. But this does not mean he was solely responsible for the violence against James Bulger. In fact, Jon Venables showed a more disturbing predisposition for violent outbursts.

Smith believes Jon responsible for the worst of the violence, but Rob no bystander:  “I imagine a great deal of nervous and exciting tension between them. Laughter, fear, aggression, anger, viciousness. The attack, once it had begun, was unstoppable. Compulsive violence played out to its inevitable conclusion.” Robert might have been responsible for the alleged sexual assault against James. He may have been a victim of his own brother and seems to have been acting out with his younger brother Ryan. During the interrogation, he became flustered by the allegations, and worried that Jon was going to tell the police that Robert played with James’s privates. He fretted, crying that people would think he was a “pervert.” While Jon also became upset by the allegations of sexual abuse, he did not implicate himself the way that Robert did. Of course, there is no way to know what happened, or who did what. In Robert’s words, “I was there, and you weren’t.”

For all of Robert’s toughness, he still exhibited childish tendencies for which he was teased. He played with troll dolls and sucked his thumb. Jon put him down for playing with girls and being girlish himself. Molded into hardness beyond his years and forced to repress his own childishness, it is possible that Robert took out his aggressions on an innocent baby, something Robert himself was never allowed to be.

Jon Venables

Jon was unusually agitated the day before James was abducted. He was restless and out of control.

Teachers started noticing Jon’s attention-seeking behavior when it began in 1991. He would do strange things, like rock back and forth in his chair, holding onto his desk, moaning and making odd noises. His teacher moved him to the front of the class where she could keep an eye on him, but then he took to knocking things over on her desk. At first, Jon’s violence was self-inflicted. He banged his head on the furniture, against the wall, and would throw himself on the floor. Jon cut himself with scissors and tore at his own clothing. But sometimes his self-destruction pivoted outward. He roamed around the classroom, tearing down the displays and artwork of other students. Jon stood on his desk and threw things at other children. Teachers documented his disruptive antics -- they had never seen anything like it before.

His strange behavior was growing increasingly violent. In one incident, he approached another classmate from behind and began choking the boy with a wooden ruler. (It took two adults to pry Jon off of the boy.) He was soon transferred to another school. He was hyper and easily distracted. One teacher thought he was lazy. Falling behind in his assignments was probably another way to call attention to himself. No one thought of Jon as a “bad” kid, in fact some teachers thought of him as a sweet child, and felt sympathy for him. They thought he was pleading for help.

What was going on with Jon at home? Did his family life have something to do with his increasingly disturbed behavior?

Jon was born August 13, 1982, to parents Susan and Neil Venables. Neil worked as a forklift driver but was often unemployed. Jon was the middle child, and both of his siblings had developmental problems. His older brother was born with a cleft pallet, which led to communication problems and increasing frustration and temper tantrums. Jon’s brother attended a special school, and his parents spent a lot of their time trying to control him. Sometimes he would be sent to foster families. Jon’s younger sister also had developmental problems and ended up at a special needs school as well. Jon was stuck in the middle, feeling ignored, and perhaps resentful of the attention his siblings received. Sometimes Jon would mimic his older brother’s tantrums.

Susan and Neil Venables had a tumultuous relationship, splitting apart, and then reuniting. The household was in a state of constant upheaval. After Neil left, Susan and the children lived with her mother, and then moved in with Neil again, only to move out to find public housing in Liverpool. Sometimes Neil would return for reconciliation. The instability affected all three kids. Both parents had histories of clinical depression, and Susan was particularly prone to hysterics. She came from a “strict and disciplined” background, and had been observed physically and verbally assaulting Jon. In stressful times she would shuttle Jon off to Neil’s house, unable to cope with him. At the age of seven, Jon was showing signs of anti-social behavior. He hated the neighborhood children who would tease him and his siblings. Jon himself had a squint in his eye, which other kids mocked. Jon was an easy target for the other kids, and they teased him mercilessly, because he was so easily worked up by their provocations.

Because he was too difficult to manage, Jon was transferred to another school, but kept behind a year. This is where he met Robert Thompson, another student who was also kept behind. Susan said that Jon was transferred because other students were bullying him, but once he met Robert, the two became bullies. They singled out kids who were weak or easy targets and picked on them. With Robert as his companion, Jon felt tough, emboldened. The two also took to skipping school on a regular basis.

Teachers noticed how Jon and Robert seemed to bring out the worst in each other, and made efforts to keep them apart. Although they could separate them in the classroom, there was nothing they could do when they skipped school. No one saw the boys as potentially violent, or even more troublesome than the other kids. Jon wasn’t willing to work and disrupted the class. Robert was quiet, but seemed to be a shrewd liar, and able to manipulate other students. He seemed more mature than Jon.

At home, Jon’s mother changed his diet, hoping it would calm him down, but nothing worked. He picked fights with his brother. When Jon stayed with his father Neil, Robert would come by, but Neil would chase him away. Robert had a bad reputation and Neil warned Jon to stay away from him.

But some would later argue that more deadly influences came to Jon at home with his father. Not through abuse, but through rented movies. Neil Venables rented a lot of videos, and much has been made of his selection. Even the judge at the Bulger trial made mention of the bad influence of horror movies. Neil did not rent esoteric or particularly brutal movies. Jon loved the karate movies, and wished he could be like Rocky. He drew scenes from the Halloween films. But it was Neil’s January 18, 1993 rental, “Child’s Play 3” that called attention to the video/violence connection. In “Child’s Play 3,” the soul of a serial killer inhabits a doll named “Chucky”. The evil doll, about the size of James, runs around slaughtering hapless victims. But in the end, he is killed in a haunted roller coaster/train ride. A battle ensues on the tracks, and Chucky, who is eventually dismembered, has blue paint splattered on his face from an earlier scene. Although there is no proof that Jon saw the entire film, there are some coincidences. The little child-doll as bad guy, who the heroes destroy in the end. Perhaps it took this cinematic image to invert James into the bad boy, the one who has to die. Jon fantasized about being a hero, the good guy. But he was too scared to take on anyone other than a baby.

Although Jon had an active imagination, he apparently repressed a great deal of hostility. He denied that there were any problems at home, despite his hysterical behavior in class. While he claimed that his family was very loving and supportive, his physical actions speak another truth. During his confession, Jon acted out some hostility toward his father, particularly when the issue of sexual assault on James came up. He walked over to his father and began punching him, crying “me dad thinks I know and I don’t.” After the first day of trial, he shouted angrily at his absent father. There is little information on the Venables family. Neil didn’t appear to be abusive. Susan, however, appears to have wielded an extreme amount of control over Jon. More than anything, he absolutely feared her condemnation and rejection.

I, not we

By most accounts, Jon took the lead in attempting to coax children away from their mothers. It was Jon who tapped on the window of a store, trying to attract a toddler’s attention. And Jon took James by the hand. When the boys encountered adults on the walk through Liverpool, Jon seems to have been the dominant one. The most compelling evidence against Jon is his own confession:  “I did kill him.” Not “we,” not Robert. He admitted to participating in the attack on James, but says he deliberately missed, or only threw light stones. Jon had a festering temper that might have propelled the mischief into a murderous assault.

For those familiar with the case, the theory seems to be that it was probably Robert’s idea to take James, and to bring him to the canal. But who instigated the first blow? Did Robert, who had come from a violent background, find it easy to drop James on his head? Or did Jon, wanting to show off for his tough friend, callously injure the toddler? Yet both boys seemed to be protective of younger kids -- Robert had his siblings, and Jon played with younger children. Perhaps this is why they came back to retrieve James after running away from him at the canal. But somehow their compulsion for violence overwhelmed their instinct for compassion. As they meandered through the neighborhood they encountered adults who could have intervened but didn’t. Adults who suspected something was wrong, but didn’t act, or couldn’t. If only there had been intervention in Robert and Jon’s life, before they got hold of James.

James was like a doll, a toy

In life, James Bulger was as cute as a doll, an adorable little tike. In death, he was initially mistaken to be a doll. The driver of the train saw what he thought was a doll on the tracks. At first he didn’t think much of it -- many kids laid out dolls on the tracks as a morbid prank. Later, when the boys playing around the railway discovered the broken body of James, they first thought he was an abandoned toy. “Then you see doll’s legs, and they all ran, and I said no, no it’s not,” said one of the boys to a reporter.

Dolls are both precious and disposable. As much as a doll is a cherished gift, it is also something children feel compelled to take apart before giving it up. Flea markets are filled with discarded dolls, usually naked, often dismembered. A missing head, missing arms, crayon scribbles over their faces.

Did Jon and Robert see James as not much more than a doll, something for them to play with and discard? According to Jon, he became Robert’s friend when Robert gave him troll dolls, which “shows you their bum and that.” At the Strand Shopping Center, Robert wanted to shoplift a troll doll for his collection. They went in looking for dolls, and left with James.

Jon might also have had dolls on his mind. Like Robert’s trolls, Jon’s doll was also comically malevolent, a “Chucky” doll. Jon and Robert’s most uncanny symbolic gesture, as pointed out by Blake Morrison, was the alleged placing of batteries in James’s rectum, as if James were a walking-talking doll. Was this an oddly childish attempt to “get him alive again,” as Robert claimed he tried to do?

It was through dolls that Robert was able to reenact the murder. He denied participating, but when he used the psychiatrist’s dolls to stage what happened, he became agitated, almost traumatized, as if the dolls were closer to the truth in Robert’s mind than the murder of a little boy. Many adult murderers dehumanize their victims in order to kill them. (Edmund Kemper talked about turning his victims into “living human dolls.”) Of course, Jon and Robert were aware that James was a living human being. But James was small and doll-like in size, too young to tell them his name. He only cried for his mother, incessantly. Both Robert and Jon longed for their absent mothers. In killing James, perhaps they were acting out a violent wish to sever themselves from their own dependencies. Yet this is all conjecture. Just like the “who” and “how,” the “whys” of the James Bulger murder remain silent.

Was Justice Served?

Here’s a Grimm’s fairy tale, “How Children Played Butcher with Each Other”:

Three children get together for a game. One will be the butcher, one will be the cook, and the other will be the pig. The “butcher” cut the throat of the “pig” while the “cook” caught the blood in a basin. An adult sees what has happened, and immediately hauls the two remaining children to the mayor. They cannot decide what to do. Was it innocent child’s play or murder? A wise elder made the following suggestion:  the judge would hold a juicy red apple in one hand, and a gold coin in the other. He would call to the “butcher” child to him and see what he chooses. If he chooses the apple, the boys are innocent. But if he chooses the gold coin, the boys would be put to death. As it turns out, the child, in his innocence, took the apple, and everyone was satisfied.

Jon and Robert took James from the front of a butcher’s shop, but we can assume that they knew what they were doing. At what age does “Doli incapax” end, or in other words, when do children lose their innocence? For Britain, it was the age of ten. Both Jon and Robert, ten years and six months old, were six months past the legal limit. Of course, imposing a fixed date on culpability is hardly effective. Jon was less mature than the average ten-year-old-boy, but that does not matter in court.

As Geraldine Bedell points out, most studies on child cruelty are intended to explain violence in adults and are conducted on adult offenders. Did they hurt animals? Start fires? We are concerned with the process of violence as a seed in the child, but need to study the proverbial “bad seeds” themselves, for their own sake. Some studies have suggested that children go through a “cruel phase.” Do some children get stuck here indefinitely? The rampant escalation of schoolyard shootings has been blamed on a number of things -- violent films, video games, and easy access to guns. But Robert and Jon’s murder did not involve shooting down distant targets within minutes. It is the intimacy that is most troubling. They walked with James for an entire afternoon. They held him, soothed him at times, and carried him across the street. How were they able to stone James to death and smack him with an iron bar after holding his little hand in their own?

Recent rulings

The boys are now teenagers, serving their sentences in their familiar secure units. The Lord Chief Justice increased their sentences, which were originally set for eight years, to ten years. But Home Secretary Michael Howard, in reaction to public concern over the case, bumped up the sentence to fifteen years. But defense lawyers argued that politicians had no business tampering with criminal sentences, and challenged the ruling. The case has gone to the European Commission of Human Rights. In late 1999 the European Court decided that Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were not given a fair trial in 1993, and concluded that the ten-year-old boys should not have been tried as adults. The raised platform, on which the defendants sat during the course of the trial, was inappropriate and intimidating. Above all, the formalities of the British legal system were beyond the boys’ comprehension. The European Court awarded the boys the cost of their trials, which is being put toward their defense expenses. But the ruling that concerns people the most is that Howard’s imposed sentence of 15 years was not legal. Currently, Jon and Robert’s release date has been deferred to the Lord Chief Justice to decide.

The new Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, will be reviewing the boys' sentences.  "I think it is very important that all those involved should have an opportunity to have an input into the process…" he announced. That means that James Bulger's parents will have a say in the length of the sentences.

Needless to say, Denise Bulger, who has since remarried, is against releasing the boys soon. She contends that these boys are still capable of equally heinous acts. Both James’s parents have been actively petitioning against Jon and Robert’s impending release. Albert Kirby, who led the original investigation in the James Bulger murder, is also disgusted by the European Court’s allegations that the boys weren’t properly handled while in custody, or given a fair trial.

The Home Office is also changing laws to prohibit the boys from selling their story to publishers. Those eager to cash in on their story have already approached the boys and their families. (Currently, the Proceeds of Crime Act 1995, which was set up to prohibit criminals from profiting from their story, is set up for six years after conviction.)

When the boys are released, they will be issued new identities, verified by new birth certificates, passports, and other documentation. They will also receive police protection for as long as they request it. “There has not been this sort of fuss since Mary Bell,” said a Home Office source.

Are they rehabilitated?

Little information is available on Jon Venables’ or Robert Thompson’s incarceration. According to David James Smith, who has received recent information on the boys, Robert had initially suffered from symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, including rashes, illnesses, nightmares, and sleeplessness. He was frightened by his own notoriety, worried that photographers waited just around the corner in jail, or that new counselors would give him away to the media. He became afraid to leave his cell, and was harassed by other inmates. Predictably, he got into some fights, for which he was punished. Robert was slow to talk about what happened, and at one point said that he did not have any feelings. But in 1995, he seemed to have had a breakthrough. He talked about the murder, admitting to participating in killing James equally. He is now studying and may get an Open University degree. Robert has shown an interest in design and textiles. He had created an intricate wedding dress, with “the intention of creating an object of beauty,” according to Smith. He has also developed talents in cooking, catering, and computers.

Jon Venables had suffered with his memories of the murder, and was tormented by ongoing nightmares of a brutalized James. Early on, he had “two difficult years,” according to psychiatrists, when he re-enacted the murder. He repeatedly fantasized about bringing James back, and even wished he could “grow a new baby James inside him for rebirth,” wrote Smith. Jon seems to have responded more favorably to therapy than Robert. His remorse and guilt will stay with him forever, he says, but the fact that he acknowledges his responsibility has helped him accept it. He now spends his time as an avid sports fan, and plays video games. Psychiatrists report that Jon is no longer a threat to the public.

Both Robert Thompson and Jon Venables can only remain in their current secure units until they turn 19 in 2001. At that point they must be moved to a young offenders’ institute for two years, and then onto prison. But it remains to be seen if they will ever see prison. Retired Detective Albert Kirby hopes they spend some time in an adult prison for their crimes.

Robert and Jon have not spoken to each other since the day that they murdered James Bulger.

Update to July, 2002

With their conviction in 1993 for the abduction and murder of 3-year-old James Bulger, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson became the youngest convicted murderers in Britain for almost 250 years.  They were originally sentenced to detention at “Her Majesty's pleasure” and were not to be released for at least 20 years.  After sentencing, the boys were housed in separate secret locations somewhere in the north of England and were expected to stay there until they turned eighteen when they would be transferred to an adult facility to serve out their time.  However, when the European Court of Human Rights decreed in December 1999 that the boys had not received a fair trial and awarded costs and expenses of £15,000 to Robert Thompson and £29,000 to Jon Venables, the plan changed.

The following March, British newspaper The Observer ran the announcement by Jack Straw, Britain’s Home Secretary, that Thompson and Venables would be freed by 2003.  Straw's decision was based on the European Court of Human Rights ruling that Michael Howard, Home Secretary at the time of the boys sentencing, had “acted illegally when fixing a 15-year sentence for them.”  

According to the report filed on March 12, 2000, the Home Secretary “had the option of referring the case to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, for a full review, because of the long-standing confusion over serious child crimes and the open-ended sentences imposed.”

Also detailed were two other options: “to accept the original sentence of eight years set by the trial judge, Mr. Justice Morland, which would have meant the boys walking free next year [2001], or the 10-year tariff imposed later by the then Lord Chief Justice after a campaign by James Bulger's parents. He opted for the latter.”

The Observer also suggested that the decision could have far-reaching consequences as it could mean future cases of a similar nature would not be tried in an adult court.

On Thursday October 26, 2000, the Guardian reported that Lord Woolf, the British lord chief justice, had cut the minimum sentences of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables “effectively granting them their freedom early next year [2001] subject to a parole board decision.”      

According to the report, Lord Woolf said: "Because of their behaviour they are entitled to a reduction in the tariff (the minimum term for punishment and deterrence) to eight years, which happens to be the figure determined by the trial judge.

"An eight-year tariff would expire on the 21st February 2001. I have already pointed out that it would not be in their or the public's interest for these two young men to be transferred to a young offenders institution.”

He added, "However grave their crime, the fact remains that if that crime had been committed a few months earlier, when they were under 10, the boys could not have been tried or punished by the courts."

On Tuesday November 14, 2000, the Guardian followed up with a report that described how Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were at “real risk of reprisals which could threaten their lives if their whereabouts and new identities are revealed” and applied for “unprecedented lifetime injunctions preventing the media from disclosing information which would identify them.”

Their applications were based on comments by Ralph Bulger, James’s father, who had vowed to “hunt his son's killers down.” Edward Fitzgerald QC, council for Venables stated, "taken in context, it is abundantly clear what he intends to do when he hunts them down." They also cited a “declared intention by the media to ‘out’ the pair.”

In answer, Ralph Bulger told reporters: "James had the right to live, the right to grow old, to love and be loved and to have children of his own. But they took his rights away from him and so they should have no rights at all, never mind the right to privacy or the right to hide away."

The injunction was sought under the Human Rights Act, which came into force in October 2000 and, according to Fitzgerald, “was justified to protect their right to life and to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, which could be threatened by revenge attacks.”

He also asked that the injunction “ban anyone publishing anything about the boys' whereabouts or their assumed identities when they are released.  Disclosure of that information would expose him (Venables) and his co-detainee to serious physical risk and serious psychological fear and the likelihood of harassment. It is necessary to protect his right to life and freedom from persecution.”

The Guardian also reported that the application “was backed by the attorney general, in his role as guardian of the public interest. The home secretary and the official solicitor also support the application for a media ban, which is opposed by three newspaper groups.” 

The report described the president of the high court's family division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, as saying “she hoped to decide before Christmas [2000] whether to grant the ban.”

Four days later, James Bulger’s mother Denise Fergus held a press conference and told reporters that "I feel let down and betrayed by the system. The only shred of hope I have is that Dame Elizabeth turns down the application for Robert Thompson and Jon Venables to be given anonymity for the rest of their lives.  As children one can understand them being given some protection but what right have they got to be given special treatment as adults as well?"

"For seven years the system persuaded me to rely on the criminal justice procedures and to remain silent although all this time I feared the worst.

"Venables and Thompson have dragged me, my family, and the name of James through every court possible in this country and Europe for which unlimited funds have been made available to them.  This is in complete contrast to the help made available to victims of crime. The European court of human rights has become a friend of criminals and enemy of their victims".

In January, 2001, the injunction application was approved and Venables and Thompson were granted a lifetime of immunity from exposure, to “protect them as they adjust to life outside.”

On Friday June 22, 2001, the British home secretary, David Blunkett, confirmed that the parole board had approved the release of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.  In a special report published the same day, the Guardian reported the story including the furor that greeted the announcement.  

In a statement to the press, Norman Brennan, a spokesman for Denise Fergus said: 

"Denise is absolutely devastated and stunned. There has to be a punishment element for such a crime but all Denise sees is Venables and Thompson being rewarded.  It has never been about revenge, it's just about a justice denied.  Denise points the finger directly at the lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, as being the head of the liberal elite, who has basically sent a message that crime pays.

Venables and Thompson are being released back to their families, who themselves could only dream of the living conditions they will now enjoy.  If they had given their children love and support, as they should have done nine years ago, James would never have been murdered."

Former home secretary, Michael Howard also stated: "I very much regret this decision.  It may well be that the parole board had no alternative but I think Lord Woolf was wrong to decide that eight years was sufficient time for Thompson and Venables to spend in custody in the light of the uniquely dreadful circumstances of their crime."

The next day the Guardian followed up with a report that the safety of Venables and Thompson was already in doubt after the Manchester Evening News “appeared to have breached the injunction banning information which might identify their whereabouts.”  The report also reported the attorney general reiterating the high court injunction and was considering contempt proceedings against the paper.

The following week the Guardian ran a story quoting Denise Fergus as saying: "No matter where they go, someone out there is waiting." 

A week later in her first TV interview since the decision to release her son’s killers, Denise Fergus told ITV’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald that she was “frightened an innocent person might be mistaken for his killers.  Right now I think they are still dangerous, and the saying goes 'once a murderer always a murderer'.  I'm not going to hunt them down, try and kill them, but if it happens then I can't stop it.  If you opened a paper or heard on the news someone had attacked them - I wouldn't feel sorry for them.

"What I'm frightened of is someone innocent getting mistaken for them and I do fear that. Now I don't want anyone else under mistaken identity to be hurt or worse. So what I'd say is be sure. Don't think or assume, be sure."

The Guardian also reported that the authorities held real fears for the safety of Thompson and Venables after threats were made to post recent photographs of the pair on the Internet.

On July 2, 2001, the BBC’s Panorama program reported that Robert Thompson's family is in hiding after Robert’s mother Ann was attacked and threatened, prompting fears for her younger children's safety.   In a letter sent through her solicitor, Mrs. Thompson said she was "effectively in hiding, unable to live anything like a normal life because of the constant and real fear of revenge attacks."

According to the program’s report, she admitted that her son had committed "a terrible crime" but her innocent younger children were being denied a proper education because of having to abandon their homes and belongings to escape attacks.

The letter also pleaded for an end to threats to find and kill her son, adding, "Two appalling wrongs do not make a right."

Bibliography

Morrison, Blake. As If. New York:  Picador, 1997.

Smith, David James.  Fatal Innocence.  New York:  St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1994.
(Published in hardcover as Beyond All Reason, and in the UK as The Sleep of Reason.)

Thomas, Mark, Every Mother's Nightmare: The Killing of James Bulger. London: Pan Books. 1993.

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