James' last day
The Saddest story you will ever read
Losing him will never go away'Fifteen years ago, the murder of toddler James Bulger by two young
boys horrified Britain and inflicted deep wounds on their home city of Liverpool. In this moving
interview, James's mother Denise Fergus tells Elizabeth Day that the passing years have not
diminished the pain over the loss of her son and her anger towards his killers, Robert Thompson and
Denise Fergus still cannot bring herself to walk near the Walton railway line. The track is a
constant reminder, a prosaic memorial of all that haunts her. She goes out of her way to avoid it,
to circumvent this unremarkable part of Liverpool, even if it adds miles to her journey and makes
her late home.
It has been 15 years since the murder of her son James Bulger on this stretch of track; 15 years
since he was beaten to death by two killers who were themselves children. Time might have passed
but, if anything, Denise's memories have come more sharply into focus with each quiet anniversary.
There is nothing exceptional in her annual remembrance, nothing that would intimate the barbaric
nature of her son's death nor that would hint to a passing onlooker at the anger that burns deep
inside. On the day James was killed, 12 February, she took a wreath of flowers to his grave. The
rest she kept in her thoughts.
'It was a difficult day,' she says. 'Getting through February is always hard. James would have been
18 this year. The real sadness is that he would have been so loved.' Instead, his death at the age
of two became a part of legal history. When found guilty of the killing in 1993, Jon Venables and
Robert Thompson were the youngest convicted murderers in Britain for almost three centuries.
Most of us can remember the Bulger case. We remember the toddler's disappearance - that blurry-edged
CCTV footage of James being led out of a shopping centre by two older boys, his hands trustingly
outstretched, his small legs whirring to keep up. We recall the sudden horror of his death, the
discovery of his body 48 hours later on Valentine's Day and the shocking realisation that the prime
suspects were only 10. We remember the mounting sense of horror that children could be capable of
such cruelty, later confirmed by the trial judge's statement that theirs was an act of 'unparalleled
evil'. We remember that James was just two years old, too young, far too young, to have been dragged
under by life's dark undertow.
But, 15 years on, some of the detail is likely to elude us. The macabre precision of the post-mortem
examination, for instance, that showed James had been beaten, kicked and bruised by his tormentors,
that he had been thrashed with an iron bar and pelted with stones. That he had been forced to walk
more than two miles, bloodied and crying, to a desolate stretch of railway line. That his face had
been splattered with blue paint and the hood of his anorak had been ripped off. That's when he was
left to die, the two boys laid him across the tracks and buried his head under a mound of bricks.
That they stripped him of his trousers, shoes and socks. That a train ran James over with such force
his legs were sliced from his torso and flung several metres from his upper body.
For several years after reading the police reports, Venables's solicitor, Laurence Lee, suffered
from nightmares. He dreamt that he was eight years old, taking a ride on a ghost train at a local
fairground. 'I would fall out on to the tracks, be run over and killed,' he says. 'I'm 54 now but
there's not a day that passes without me thinking about it.
'The police found a leaf stuck to the bottom of his bare foot. That one detail broke my heart.' The
murder was, he acknowledges, senseless in the truest definition of the word. There was no answer to
the perpetual why. There were just more and more questions, heaped upon each other until there
seemed little point in asking them any more.
Certainly, the people of Liverpool do not ask. It is too painful to be reminded and too hopeless to
seek explanation. It is a place used to tragedy - four years before James's murder, 96 Liverpool
football fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough - but one that has also sought to rejuvenate
itself. This year, it is the European Capital of Culture and people are wary of bringing up the
past, of associating themselves endlessly with tainted sadness.
Yet wherever you go in this city, whichever street you walk down or door you knock, the memories
still float to the surface like unbidden driftwood. Four miles north of the centre, in the Strand
shopping centre in Bootle where James got fatally separated from his mother as she stood at the
butcher's counter, the shadow of what happened still casts its pall over the tinny piped music and
cellophane-wrapped teddy bears.
'It's not forgotten by any means,' says Donna Martin, 36, the assistant manager of Clinton Cards. 'I
just remember the sheer horror of it. At first, we hoped the little boy would be found and then,
when we heard it was kids who had done it... it was just unbelievable.'
Two miles east in Walton, where Venables and Thompson grew up, there is a pervading weariness, a
sense that the community has become calcified in a state of perpetual penance. At St Luke's Church,
the gates have been padlocked and sprayed with anti-vandalism paint. Last week, the owner of the
local newsagent was forced to divide the shop in two with a floor-to-ceiling glass screen after a
customer tried to jump the counter.
John, 26, was in Thompson's year at St Mary's primary school. 'I can't really remember him,' he
says. 'It's not something you want to remember, to be honest, even though it's always there.
Everyone here has been affected by it. A mate of mine found the body. He didn't recognise it as a
boy at first. He thought it was a doll. It just destroyed him.'
But it is in a small pocket of the Liverpool suburb of Kirkby that James's death is most keenly
felt. Denise Fergus still lives here, in a neat, semi-detached house filled with mementoes: a lock
of James's hair, a selection of small jumpers, his go-kart. In the loft, she keeps a fireplace from
her old home, marked by a toddler's accidental, greasy handprint. Divorced from James's father, she
has remarried and insists on talking about her son every day to her three other children - Michael,
14, Thomas, nine, and Leon, eight.
'I cherish the memories of him,' she says. 'Like a day I'd come out of the shower and sprayed on
some deodorant. He said "You smell lovely Mummy", and put a big smile on my face. I still wear that
same deodorant today.
'The pain of losing him will never go away. But there's so much more in my life that I determined
long ago not to be a victim any more. I don't let things hurt me so easily as I once did. Like it
was hurtful when the papers called him "Jamie". That was never his name. It was like a strange label
they invented to sum him up in one word. It's the same now with Madeleine McCann. The papers call
'The thing that rubs salt in the wound for me is knowing the two who killed him are walking around
thinking they got away with murder.
'I can never forgive Thompson and Venables for the horrendous, calculated, cold-blooded murder of
'They were 10 years of age but much, much older in their minds. They knew full well what they were
doing, yet they've never shown a single shred of remorse.'
At the time, none of us was sure what to make of those two young boys, the static grins of their
school photographs imprinted so forcefully on our consciousness. In the aftermath of the trial in
November 1993, the Daily Star carried pictures of Venables and Thompson underneath the headline 'How
do you feel now you little b******s?' alongside the unconsciously ironic masthead slogan, 'The
newspaper that cares'. It seemed to sum up society's own discomfort: the conflicted paradox between
feeling sympathy for children caught up in something they did not necessarily understand and the
primal rage provoked by the murder of a toddler entirely unequipped to defend himself.
It seemed easier to say that Thompson and Venables were 'born evil', to absolve us of collective
responsibility, to paint them as examples of a monstrous otherness whose actions were beyond
rational explanation. But for some, such as the consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr
Eileen Vizard, who gave evidence at the trial, the reasons children kill are more subtle: 'More
often than not, it is a complicated matrix of individual, familial and environmental risk factors
that come together in a bad way at the same time.'
Both Venables and Thompson grew up in an area where unemployment was twice the national average and
both their fathers were out of work. They came from two broken homes and forged a common bond
through playing truant. The domestic chaos was worse for Thompson - the family was well-known to
police and disliked by locals, and his older brother Ian had taken an overdose of paracetamol to
force social services to put him into care.
In the run-up to the Bulger murder, much of what they did was the normal misbehaviour of a pair of
youthful miscreants: they would while away their days with bouts of petty shoplifting and frighten
elderly women by jumping out at them in the street. But Thompson was, says Laurence Lee, 'like the
Pied Piper'. 'When they took James to the railway track, Jon said to me that he only threw small
stones, that he missed on purpose. Robert Thompson allegedly said "Are you blind, divvy?" Thompson
was the most frightening child I've ever seen, with these cold, steely eyes. It was absolutely
chilling when he stared at you.'
Neither boy expressed remorse, although Venables was the more emotional of the two, crying and
shrieking as the sentence was passed while Thompson sat, dry-eyed, occasionally smirking, fiddling
with a gold ring on one hand. The strength of feeling against Thompson ran so high that a frustrated
member of his own legal team is said once to have pushed him up against a wall and shouted 'Why
don't you ever cry, you little barsteward?'
Did they know right from wrong? Teachers who gave evidence at the trial concluded that they did, but
the legal process must have seemed at times beyond their comprehension. At 10, Britain has one of
the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe and in Preston Crown Court, the dock had to be
raised by 18 inches so that the boys would be able to see over the top. Venables would spend hours
playing Tetris with his junior counsel as his legal team tried to extract information. 'He would say
"You're not going to ask me any hard questions are you?",' recalls Lee.
In 1999, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the boys' had been too young to understand
the proceedings and their sentence was reduced from 10 to eight years. Released in 2001, Venables
and Thompson are living under assumed identities. In detention, they received a better education
than many of their contemporaries, each gaining a clutch of GCSEs and A-levels - something that has
caused enormous bitterness for those left behind.
Denise finds it especially galling. 'They have been rewarded with the best of everything: a fine
education, a new life and protection by the state,' she says. 'They did get away with murder. They
got away scot-free. But I am still under a kind of life sentence.'
There is nothing, now, to mark the spot where her son's short life ended with such brutal force. The
railway line, approached by a steep grassy embankment strewn with the broken necks of vodka bottles,
has been screened off with high metal fences. On one side stands a derelict pub, its boarded-up
windows overlooking the track with a blank, shuttered gaze. It is a desolate place to end a life, a
bleak memorial. But if there is no physical monument, no plaque or flowered wreath, there is
something altogether more lasting. In Liverpool, remembrance is carried close to the heart. It is a
city of memories and James Bulger resides there still.
Also remembered is James' sister Kirsty who was born sleeping before James was born,together angels forever xx
Donations for the 'RED BALLOON' project for 'JAMES BULGER HOUSE'fronted by Esther Rantzen & James mom, can be donated at this link.A lovely memorial to James.Please try & visit.
Please could everyone sign this petition?