James Bulger: 20 years on Denis Fergus is still looking for ‘justice’
JAMES Bulger’s father has marked two decades since his young son was murdered by children with a book. In it he alludes to the remourse felt by John Venables. James Bulger’s mother, now remarried and called Denise Fergus, says she “wants justice”. As ever , what she says is broadcast in the mainstream media.
Venables and Robert Thompson, both aged 10, were convicted of killing two-year-old James in Bootle, Merseyside in 1993. They tortured him. Then they left him on a train track. The train hit him.
The tabloid angle has been clear from day one: Venables and Thompson are more guilty because they were children.
Mrs Fergus seems to have a particular hatred of Venables. In 2001, Venables was released from Red Bank secure unit in St Helens, Merseyside. In 2010, he was recalled when he pleaded guilty to downloading and distributing indecent images of children. For that, he can have no excuse. His crime only came to light when, fearing his cover had been blown, he called the police. They went to his home, where they found him trying to erase his computer’s hard drive.
Mrs Fergus marks the second decade of her son’s death by telling media:
“Do not release him. I still don’t think he’s capable of walking amongst other people. He will do someone else harm. It’s in him, and I strongly believe if he’s released he will go on to hurt someone else.”
“Why should I let it go? They took the most precious thing away from me. I won’t let it go. And I’ve always said if there’s a fight there to be fought, then I’ll fight it for James. If I let go of that now I will feel I’ve let James down. That is something I’ll never do, I’ll never let James down. I want justice for James. He’s never had justice.”
What is the justice she craves? That life means life? Some would argue that summary justice be meted out on the killers? Fergus adds:
“I did warn [the authorities] that one of them or both of them would go on to reoffend, and I was proven right with Venables.”
Venables and Thompson are watched closely by the authorities. They cannot be watched 24-hours a day. They have new identities. Their crime was unusual. A ten-year-old killer is not a common thing. Thank god. But should they not have a chance to atone and be punished? The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old.
In 2011, the Royal Society published a report. It said that at age 10 parts of the brain connected with decision-making and judgement are still developing.
Professor Nicholas Mackintosh, who chaired the working group that compiled the study, said: “There’s now incontrovertible evidence that the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence.” He said some regions of the brain – including parts responsible for decision-making and impulse control – are not fully mature “until at least the age of 20”. “Now that clearly has some implications for how adolescents behave,” he said.
The age of criminal responsibility is 18 in Belgium and 16 in Spain.
John Venables and Robert Thompson must keep their past secret. They must never return to Merseyside without State approval. Is that a normal life?
In sentencing Enables for the child porn, Mr Justice Bean stated:
“It would be wrong, in my view, for the sentence you receive today for child pornography offences to be increased by reason of the fact that you are one of the two people who, when much younger, carried out the horrific murder of two year old James Bulger. But there is a significant difference between your case and that of a typical offender. In an ordinary case, I would be telling the defendant that after serving half of the sentence of imprisonment which I imposed, he would be released on licence. That does not apply in your case…
“The appropriate sentence after a trial would therefore have been 3 years, but you are entitled to credit of one third for the fact that you made immediate admissions when interviewed about the respective offences.”
The judge stuck to the law. No special case was made. But this is a specil case. David James Smith had followed the case closely. He wrote in the Sunday Times:
From the moment I heard about Venables’ interest in child pornography, I was cast back to the still-unanswered questions about the murder of James Bulger — why it happened, and the extent to which the attack may have been sexually motivated. I was reminded, too, of concerns about the way in which Venables and Thompson were overseen after their release on “life licence” in 2001, when an extraordinary bureaucracy was created just for them.
The then home secretary, David Blunkett, added his own conditions to their licence and insisted on being fed daily reports so that he could keep tabs on what the two young men were up to. The bureaucrats were so desperate to protect their projects — Venables and Thompson — and watch their own backs that they routinely deceived and withheld information about them from people who ought to have been told.
The deception was mainly intended to protect Venables’ new identity from becoming known, but has been described to me by someone close to the case as “a conspiracy of lies” that began to unravel when Venables started getting into trouble, at least two years before he was discovered with child pornography. He, too, lied to people who ought to have seen through his deception.
His offender manager gave him money out of her own pocket when he claimed to be broke (it later turned out Venables was buying cocaine and “meow meow” — mephedrone), and went round to play darts with Venables at his flat to stave off his loneliness. She noted that he was on the internet a lot. Unbeknown to her, he was also visiting Merseyside, breaking one of the key conditions of his parole, which was to keep him away from the city where the parents of his victim still lived. He ought to have been sent straight back to prison for that alone, but somehow nobody knew what he was up to.
This has since been investigated by an independent adviser, Sir David Omand, who was asked by the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, to find out what went wrong. His 114-page report, published last November, is very kind and effectively exonerates all those involved, refusing to judge them with hindsight.
Thomson and Venables continue to haunt the public consciousness.