BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
World 
UK 
England 
Northern Ireland 
Scotland 
Wales 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 11:56 GMT
A death that shocked the nation
Woman and child laying flowers
Many people shared the grief of the Bulger family
The murder of James Bulger led to an outpouring of collective grief, horror and revulsion across Britain as details of the killing on the afternoon of February 12 1993 emerged.

Some tabloid newspaper's compared the killers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables to Myra Hindley and Saddam Hussein.

Many people felt tremendous anger and wanted the boys to be punished - so much so that a year later over 300,000 people signed a petition to demand that a tougher sentence be imposed on the youngsters.


Two-year-old James was found on a railway line
The tragedy began at 3.39pm when a surveillance camera in the Bootle Strand shopping centre, on Merseyside, filmed Robert Thompson and Jon Venables take James by the hand from outside a butcher's shop.

James' mother Denise was inside buying meat and had let go off him for just two minutes.

Thompson and Venables were truanting from school on that fateful day and had spent most of it hanging round the centre doing a bit of shoplifting.

With James in tow the pair left the Strand under the watchful gaze of the CCTV cameras to begin a two and a half mile walk which would lead to the toddler's death.

Along the route to the stretch of railway line at Walton where they finally killed James, the older boys were spotted and sometimes challenged by numerous people who were called to give evidence at their three week long trial in November 1993.

As the trio passed people, James was seen with a head injury and appearing distressed - the result of being dropped on his head.

Messages of sympathy

During the high-profile trial the same tabloid newspapers which compared Thompson and Venables to Hindley and Hussein dubbed the people who saw the boys take away James - but failed to act - the "Liverpool 38".


Anger: Protests outside the court
Within days of the toddler's mutilated body being found on the railway line, the local evening paper, the Liverpool Echo, carried 1,086 death notices for him including one from the SAS.

Floral tributes were heaped where his body was found and Robert Thompson was among those to leave a marker.

A TV crew captured him laying a single red rose just the day before his arrest.

Bouquets, cards and teddy bears were also left at the Bootle shopping precinct where Thompson and Venables picked up James. Children even sent their pocket money to his parents Denise and Ralph.

Denise and Ralph were swamped with five full boxes of mail a day for days afterwards - although police were forced to screen it to weed out hate mail which blamed the family for not looking after James properly.

In the aftermath parents said they were frightened to let go of their children's hands and infant reins sold-out completely in Merseyside.

Black armbands

Policemen told reporters they had never experienced anything like it before and many people described the mood of the city and its atmosphere as being similar to that of the Hillsborough tragedy when almost 100 Liverpool Football club fans lost their lives.

The club's players once more donned black armbands and led a minute's silence before a match - even the legendary Kop stand was silenced.

But after the grief came anger and hatred which culminated in a crowd of more than 500 people gathering outside South Sefton Magistrates Court, hurling abuse at the two boys.

The parents of both killers were eventually forced to move to other parts of the country and change their names.

Thompson and Venables themselves are now held in different secure units.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories