The disappearance of 2 year old James Bulger started as a missing child investigation. It was certainly plausible that the young boy had walked off on his own. His mother Denise Bulger - now Denise Fergus - left him outside a shop for literally a moment. When she returned, he had gone. She panicked, as would most mothers, but the authorities were immediately on the scene, and of course everyone was optimistic that he would turn up in a shop or somewhere, alone and crying for his mum. The police went through the relevant CCTV, and they found this shocking image below. Two days after his abduction, the body of James Bulger was found on a railway line.
Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were arrested on February 18, 1993. They were both only 10 years old. They were not the only suspects though, the police were simply doing their job following up leads; they were in fact looking for two slightly older boys, but the CCTV was deceptive. They were doubtless shocked to a man and woman when the truth sank in.
Much has been written about this terrible crime. Some of the background to it including their release can be found here
. Although nothing further has been heard about Thompson, and hopefully never will, Venables was back in the news two years ago for a serious breach of his life licence
There are those who say he should stay behind bars forever, and some who are determined to keep him there, none less so than the victim's mother, who has been speaking out as the 20th anniversary of her son's death approached. It is difficult to disagree with her. Most people would agree that anyone who has committed all but the most heinous of crimes may deserve a second chance. This was certainly not one of those, being heinous in the extreme, but both boys were given a second chance purely in view of their age. In fact the system made no real attempt to punish them, indeed even as the judge passed sentence the authorities were thinking only of rehabilitation. In December 1999, the European Court of Human Rights made the ludicrous pronouncement
that they had not received a fair trial because it had been held in public - where justice could be seen to be done - and because the proceedings had been subjected to intensive press coverage. As if anything else were either possible or desirable.
The reality is that as any objective person will agree, the authorities bent over backwards, forwards and sideways not only to ensure their trial was fair but to give them every chance to put their terrible deed behind them. Thompson appears to have done so; Venables has not. It remains to be seen if he will ever be given a third chance, but he is now an adult, and the primary concern must not be to protect him from the public, but to protect the public from him. Hopefully for the foreseeable future.