Some heinous crimes stain the brain and I can recall being in my twenties when I was watching the teatime news and heard two 10-year old lads had taken 2-year-old James Bulger from a shopping centre with the purpose of killing him. They left his body cut in half on a train track so make it look like an accident. The evil seemed beyond my limits of understanding. I thought I’d have a quick look for his grave after spending the day in buzzing Liverpool city centre. I arrived at the cemetery north of the city one Sunday evening with the intention to find the grave of a soldier awarded the Victoria Cross. I soon found it and saw the cemetery - surrounded by houses - wasn’t beyond a quick one hour walk up and down the headstones. I knew James Bulger was buried here somewhere and thought I’d look for him, somewhat unsure locals would tell a stranger were it was.
The grave was pointed out to me quite quickly though. On arrival I’d noticed a car like mine parked up a narrow pathway under some trees besides some graves. Twenty minutes later and it was still there occupied by two people. I passed by and let onto the couple. It worked out they’d lost their own kid to meningitis years ago and they came and had a picnic in the car by the grave most weekends. James Bulger’s grave was “just there” they said, and I was surprised I’d missed the white angels on it.
On the 12th February 1993 Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were in the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, playing truant and shoplifting. CCTV shows them looking for a target to abduct. Denise Bulger was there her son James. While inside the butcher's shop on the lower floor her attention was taken and she realised James had disappeared. Thompson and Venables had approached the boy, took his hand, lead him out of the shopping centre. They took him a meandering 2.5-mile walk across Liverpool to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. James had suffered bump on the head and was crying and two people challenged the older boys. They claimed James was lost and they were taking him to the local police station.
Arriving at Walton village they led James up a steep bank to a railway line. Earlier the two boys had shoplifted modelling paint which they now put in one of James’s eyes. They kicked and stomped on him then threw bricks and stones at him. Batteries were pushed in his mouth (and evidence suggested his bum too.) His foreskin was forcibly retracted. Finally a 10 kg iron bar was dropped on him yielding ten skull fractures. Later the pathologist said James suffered 42 injuries but none could be isolated as the fatal blow. They lay James’s body across the railway tracks and weighted his head down with rubble in the hope a passing train would make his death appear to be an accident. They left and James’s body was cut in half by a train. Thankfully he was dead when this happened.
James was discovered two days later and the railway embankment was flooded with hundreds of bunches of flowers. Footage from the shopping centre CCTV appeared on television, a woman recognised Venables, contacted the police and both boys were arrested. Up to 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.
At the trial at Preston Crown Court the boys (sat on raised chairs) denied the crime but overwhelming evidence weighed in. Some newspapers claimed that the attack was inspired by the film Child's Play 3 and their campaign to tighten rules brought some success. Footage from the New Strand Shopping Centre showed the boys had tried to lead away another two-year-old boy away but the boy’s mother prevented this. They were sentenced to prison, the judge recommending a minimum term of ten years.
After the trial James’s parents broke down, both since re-marrying and having more children. Venables and Thompson were eventually released, both losing all trace of their Liverpool accents. In 2004 James’s mum she received a tip-off from an anonymous source that helped her locate one of the killers but upon seeing him she was "paralysed with hatred" and was unable to confront him.
I took a few photos of the headstone and nodded to the couple still sat in the car as I returned to mine. I drove off to find the location where the television series Brookside has been filmed feeling a bit low. I’d received a high from having a “Beatles” day in the city but now it ended flatly. After visiting Brookside I drove home listening to a 1990's compilation album to lift my spirits but the grave and the couple sat in their car next to their dead kid anchored things down a bit.
Looking for this poor lad…
Now guarded by a couple of angels…
From the rear…