The Bulger Killers: Was Justice Done?
James Bulger: A Mother’s Story
I watched both of these programmes. We know what happened. Twenty-five years ago, when Tony Blair was Shadow Home Secretary, ten-year-old Robert Thompson and Jon Venables took toddler James Bulger from a shopping centre in Liverpool to a railway track near their home and killed him. CCTV images showed them taking James Bulger. They were quickly tracked down and caught. Tape recording of police interviews of Venables and Thompson were used in both programmes, but in James Bulger: A Mother’s Story these same tapes were given subtitles and the parts of the interviewing officers and suspects were re-recorded by actors. For what purpose, I’m not quite sure. The actors sound like ten-year old Liverpudlian boys denying, crying, trying to put the blame on each other and then admitting their guilt.
There’s no doubt ITV’s production takes seniority. Sir Trevor McDonald fresh from interviewing inmates on death row in America is sent to talk intimately with the mother of the James Bulger. ‘All I want is justice’ is what she says.
Both Thompson and Venables are out of prison and have been given new identities in 2010, but by 2017 Venables was back inside, found guilty of downloading and distributing child pornography.
The presiding judge when finding Thompson and Venables guilty of killing James Bulger labelled they ‘evil’. Look at the footage of grown men attacking the police van when they were taken to court. Police officers were unanimous in their verdict and Sir Richard Henriquies Queen’s Counsel for the prosecution at that time looks back at the case and tells us they knew the difference between right and wrong.
Subtext, there’s ten-year old boys and there’s this pair. Albert Kidd a senior investigating officer called them devils. Damien out of The Omen was another officer’s viewpoint.
One of the moderating voices in both programmes was journalist and author Blake Morrison. He reasoned if immature ten-year boys could be tried for the crime of murder, then juries could also be made up of ten-year olds. A moral panic whipped by Kevin McKenna at The Sun called for justice to be done. Cut-out tabs could be sent from the reader to their MP demanding justice. Over a million signatures were collected denouncing the lenient sentence given to the child murderers. It was doubled by the Home Secretary, but it still wasn’t enough. Albert Kidd said he went to interview Venables at a secure children’s home and they had duvets and TV.
Justice is another word for hanging, beating, whipping, slapping and getting what’s coming to them. Venables should not have had the luxury of a duvet on his bed. He should have been in a dark dungeon with water dripping onto his forehead, dirty water and rats gnawing his feet.
James Bulger’s mum has a right to call for this kind of justice. But to pander to the lowest common denominator demonises not the villains but ourselves. The Bulger killing on 18th February 1993 was not an accident, but it was a tragedy.
The following year two six-year old boys killed a five-year old girl. No one called them devils. They continued with kindergarten education and their identity was protected. This was Trondheim, in Norway. No further reports of these kids re offending have reached us. Children in Scandinavian countries are different, of course, because they’re not born evil. Happy is a world that does not need heroes. God save us. Happy a world that does not need devils.