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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 04:03 GMT
Grim memories of the Bulger trial
James Bulger's death provoked intense feelings across the UK
The BBC's Mike Mckay reported on the police search for the killers of James Bulger, and was present during the murder trial. He recalls the moment when the verdict was reached.

It was well past five o'clock and a clammy November day had already turned to night outside Preston Crown Court. Just along the street, the dimly lit open market had folded for the day and the little shops in the old square, on the other side of the court, were starting to shut up.

When word reached the crowd waiting in the court's central hallway that the jury was returning, many of us assumed that, after long hours of deliberation, they were ready to sleep on their decision another day.

Then the whisper started as we returned to the Press benches. "There's a verdict!" We settled hurriedly into our places.

This was not one of those modern courtrooms, with bright lighting and office-style furniture. The walls were green tiled, the woodwork a dark brown.

James Bulger was killed in 1993
This was the Victorian criminal court in all its intimidating solemnity, with the judge, Mr Justice Morland peering down at us and the defendants - Jon Venables and Robert Thompson - elevated above the public benches in the dock. Their chairs were raised so that they could see over the wooden sides.

Two social workers sat beside the boys throughout the trial. The sessions would break for rests more often than in adult trials.

Eleven-year-old children, accused of serious crimes, would normally face a youth court - hearings closed to the general public, although open to news reporters. As a matter of course the identities of the children withheld from publication, by order of the court.

At Preston Crown Court, in November l993, crowds of Merseysiders packed into the public benches day after day. Some of them may have been among the fiercely angry crowd which gathered outside Bootle Magistrates court when Venables and Thompson made their first appearance after arrest.

I remember those scenes clearly. A gathering, perhaps a thousand strong, had collected outside the court - barely five minutes from the shopping centre James Bulger disappeared from.

There were angry scenes outside Preston Crown Court
Our cameras captured the depth of anger when several in the crowd surged towards the police vans as they left court while others screamed for vengeance. Never had I seen such large-scale fury outside a court, let alone directed at two eleven-year-olds.

On the day they were convicted, we rushed out to file our first report for BBC Television's Six O'clock News.

The report had almost concluded when I got word from inside the court that the judge had agreed that the two boys should be publicly identified. I went back on air to name them. From that day, their names and their crimes would be synonymous.

Many commentators have sought to explain the emotions unleashed by the Bulger murder and the subsequent trial. Had it all happened in some other part of the country, would the intensity of feeling have been quite so high, the public reaction quite so dramatic?

Liverpool is a city where family pride and loyalty know no peer. Adults are passionately protective of children. The Catholic faith informs much of the community's life.

Real-life drama seems writ that much larger in Liverpool, which may explain something of its enormous talent for music, theatre and the other creative arts. But the James Bulger story is one drama the city still struggles to comprehend.

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