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1993: At the heart of a tragedy
Canon Anthony Hawley was Anglican team Rector for Kirkby, Merseyside, from 1985 - 2002.

It was the town where the Bulger family lived, and when James was murdered in February 1993, it became the focus of worldwide attention.

Canon Hawley talked to On This Day about how the community coped with such a tragic loss.

It was a strange sensation suddenly to have this part of Merseyside - which hadn't attracted a huge amount of attention in the past - to have people from TV stations from all over the world showing a huge media interest.

It was a tragedy which had the spotlight of not just the nation, but people across the globe.

Many people in Kirkby have had a hard life - there are second and third generation people who are unemployed and they've had difficulty with education and housing.

They're used to hard times, but something like that really did hit them.

There weren't really very many answers to be given at that stage - and I don't think over a period of time there were either.

All one could offer was a presence, prayers of healing, prayers for the family and simply to be there supporting them.


We certainly shared in the grief and the sadness of the town, and although we couldn't have shared in the vindictive comments - and maybe some of the anger - we understood why people were reacting the way they did.

It was one of the most difficult times of my ministry, but you do have to remember Kirkby lost five people in the Hillsborough disaster, and we also lost very tragically someone in the Gulf War.

But the people here do have a huge resilience born out of the difficulties many of them have been through.

I wouldn't say they bounce back without anything different to show for it, but they have held on and not been bowed by it.

We were conscious the eyes of the world were on us

I was very kindly invited by Michael O'Connell - the parish priest who was responsible for organising the funeral - to take part in the service, together with two of my colleagues.

The three of us stood with the Catholic clergy at the funeral.

It was very subdued - a very sad occasion and hugely moving. There was an enormous atmosphere.

There were so many people there and of course we were conscious the eyes of the world were on us.

Fr O'Connell preached wonderfully on the occasion - he ministered after and during the events so helpfully to the family.

The murder had a deep impact - it seems continually to be brought up.

It's become part of a national milestone and I think quite a lot has been judged from that.


I think it underlies something about our attitude towards childcare and children growing up - because of course the perpetrators themselves were children.

Because of that it's held its place in our history.

I think Jon Venables and Robert Thompson will receive a level of pity and forgiveness from the majority of Liverpudlians.

But equally I think there is a very large number of people in Merseyside who would not be ready to extend any kind of sympathy and forgiveness at the moment.

Because it's been kept as an issue I think many people find it difficult to move on - and that's understandable.

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Ralph Bulger (r) helps carry his son's coffin
The eyes of the world were on a grieving community

Canon Hawley (l) at the Centre 63 community centre in 2001 (pic courtesy of Knowseley Challenge)
Canon Hawley (l) was Kirkby team rector for 17 years
In Context
Anthony Hawley left Kirkby in November 2002 and was appointed Canon Treasurer of the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.

He has particular responsibility for organising the Cathedral's centenary in 2004.

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