Remembering James Bulger


20130212Winifred Robinson returns to the Bulger family, 20 years after the murder of their son.

The Bulger family still lives on a council estate in Kirkby and on the surface of it very little has changed since Winifred last saw them two decades ago when the children who had abducted and killed two year old James were convicted of murder. But in the intervening years she often reflected on the case and wondered about what had happened to the large extended family and its campaign for justice for James. Meeting Ralph and his brother Jimmy again she is struck by how eager they still are to convey their one unwavering conviction: that a privileged elite has ridden roughshod over James's memory and grief to focus solely on what is best for his killers.

The family trust Winifred to tell their story because she comes from the same sort of background as them, interviewed them shortly after James's murder and also attended the trial. In his summing up the trial judge said the case had changed everyone who'd come into contact with it. The Bulgers have lost a dearly loved child, their peace of mind, privacy and sense of security. They're angry and disgusted about the way the authorities have treated them but perhaps saddest of all, they can't bury the horror of those memories, or even more poignant, forgive themselves for what they see as their failure to protect James and their defeat in their battles to defend his memory by keeping his killers incarcerated.

Ralph describes the waking nightmare he was caught in as the whole country attempted to analyse and probe the case - searching for answers about what made two children act in such a way. Much was made about how the kind of childhood Venables and Thompson had and how this might have been behind the brutal torture of a two year old boy. But as Ralph remarks, he himself grew up in a tough community and knew many children who had awful lives through no fault of their own but who did not go out and murder an innocent child.

He admits to the terrible dilemma he found himself in: wanting James's killers dead at the same time as being a father himself and never wanting to harm or be cruel to a child: I felt terrible that I had these feelings inside me towards two ten-year-old boys, and I found these emotions so hard to deal with. But my responses were primal. Having these thoughts in my head does not mean that I will ever spill over into being a killer myself.

Following the arrest of Venables and Thompson Ralph describes using alcohol to blot out the pain - drinking heavily and sinking into a very dark place. At one point the pain got so bad that he locked himself away in his bedroom for two weeks. A glimmer of hope, in the form of Denise's pregnancy, was partly overshadowed by the increasing divide between the couple, who were stunned into silence by the enormity of what had happened. Ralph describes the pain of tearing open the wound every time they looked at each other until, in the end, separating seemed the only way to survive the grief.

Winifred explores the family's beliefs that too little is done to include the families of murder victims in the court process and that their suffering bears no influence on the subsequent decisions about release. Their efforts to cope with life were dealt a further blow on June 23rd 2001, when Ralph and Denise were told of the parole board's decision to release Thompson and Venables, who were then both 18. This decision was so difficult to cope with and left a void - all that had been done to seek justice for James appeared to have counted for nothing.

Produced by Sue Mitchell.