Were he alive today, little James Bulger would be 23 years old this year. But it was as a toddler in the UK that James went missing from his mother’s side in February 1993 while shopping at the Bootle Strand in Liverpool. A couple of days later, his remains were found on the railway tracks a few kilometres away in Walton. Beaten and assaulted, the horror story continued when the suspects in James’ murder were identified by security footage as being two 10 year old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.
Devastating the community and James’ family (his Mum and Dad subsequently split), the perpetrators’ families also had to move, assuming new identities, while their respective sons undertook ‘rehabilitation’ in prison. The pair was found guilty 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 a lifelong licence in June 2001. In 2010, Venables was returned to prison for violating the terms of his licence of release.
Twenty years on, the mourning continues for little James, his memorial lies at the local Kirkdale Cemetery, where his grave is found under a tree with a note that reads "James's Special Place".
The questions remain today: “How could this have happened?”, “What sort of children are they?” And “where is our moral fibre?”
The events were a sad indictment on society in that place at that time: high levels of unemployment, low or no incomes, a great divide in social classes, and a lack of care for those already considered ‘lost’. While taking a young life would be hard to ever forgive, the subsequent lives of Venables and Thompson have not been pleasant either. Thompson, hidden beneath an assumed identity, lives under constant parole, while Venables, always considered the most impressionable, has been returned to prison for subsequent violations, succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse. Rumours of them having been ‘exported’ to Australia were categorically denied by the UK and Aussie government.
So now, so many years on, we wonder if society has learnt anything from the treatment of these offenders, undertaking the most heinous of crimes at such a young age. Does anyone really appreciate the consequences of their actions at such an age? Can a broad approach be taken against such actions, or must each be considered case by case?
And while liberal advocates might argue that Venables and Thompson were too young to be tried as adults, or that the judge should never have released their names or photographs, the ultimate sympathy can only go to James’ family, virtually destroyed by those events 20 years ago, and the change in the attitude of all parents who subsequently became more cautious and suspicious whenever taking their toddlers on a trip to the shops after the events of February 12, 1993.
We often quote certain dates as being those of when “the world changed”. That was one of them.
requiescant in pace James Patrick Bulger. 16 March 1990 – 12 February 1993.
(pic: James Bulger. It was released by his Mother to the police and the public in the hunt for her son's killers)