Denise Fergus’s toddler son fell victim to a crime that shocked Britain 25 years ago.
Two-year-old James Bulger was abducted from a shopping centre in Liverpool and murdered by two 10-year-old boys.
Fergus had let go of his hand momentarily to pay the butcher for some pork chops.
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson lured the boy away from his mother to torture and eventually kill him.
Now, Venables is back in the news, jailed for again for possessing more than 1,000 indecent images of children and a child abuse manual.
Throughout this time, Fergus has fiercely campaigned to achieve justice for her son, protesting his killers’ anonymity and the tax payer funds spent on their new identities.
In her book I Let Him Go, she writes: “I will continue to do all I can for James until there is no breath left in my body – he will always be my son and I will protect him and his memory forever. The fight continues, it just changes as the years go on.”
On Thursday night, Fergus will go on ITV to tell the story of her life, which changed forever when she let go of her son’s hand on 12 February 1993.
12 February 1993
James Bulger is abducted from the Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, Merseyside, by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. It is the first time his mother Denise Fergus had left the buggy at home, taking him out on foot. His body is found on a railway line two days later.
24 November 1993
Venables and Thompson, both aged 10, are found guilty of abduction and murder and sentenced to minimum of eight years in prison. The verdict makes them the youngest convicted murderers in Britain for 250 years.
Two weeks after trial, Lord Chief of Justice Lord Taylor of Gosforth, increased the tariff by a further two years.
Fergus bitterly fought the lenient sentence. With the support of The Sun, around 280,000 signed a petition supporting her bid, including 4,400 letters of support agreeing Venables and Thompson should remain in detention for life and nearly 6,000 asking for a minimum period of detention of 25 years.
The Sun petition is handed to government. Home Secretary Michael Howard increases their sentence to 15 years – meaning they would be at least 25 when they were released and would have served seven years in adult prison.
The House of Lords overturns the decision, ruling it unlawful for the Home Secretary to decide on minimum sentences for young offenders.
The European Court of Human Rights rules Venables and Thompson did not receive a fair trial. Fergus protests: “The British government should not allow the European court to decide how we operate our legal system.”
James’ parents apply to European court arguing victims of crime should be involved in sentencing. They lose.
New Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf recommends the tariff be reduced back to eight years.
The killers are granted lifelong anonymity and new identities by an unprecedented court order from High Court judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. Anyone revealing their new identities can be be jailed for two years.
Venables and Thompson are released on licence from secure children’s homes. They are both 18.
Fergus tells The News Of The World she has tracked down Thompson via a letter from an anonymous “well-wisher”. She said: “I wanted to rush up to him and scream, ‘Why did you kill my child?’ Yet I was turned to stone – paralysed with hatred… In the end I just stared after him as he wandered down the street, turned a corner – and was gone.”
Venables is arrested for affray and possession of cocaine. He receives a formal warning from the Probation Service.
Fergus launches For James: The James Bulger Memorial Trust. The charity benefits and supports young people who are disadvantaged by bereavement, being victims of crime, hatred or bullying. It provides cost-free travel and accommodation for such children and their families.
Venables is jailed for two years after admitting downloading the distributing indecent images of children.
Fergus had earlier met with Justice Secretary Jack Straw and called on the government to force Venables to appear in court under his own name. She also demanded that Venables’ probation officer be sacked.
Venables is freed after the Parole Board recommends his release.
Three months earlier, Fergus had earlier urged the authorities to keep him in prison. She said: “I still believe Venables is a danger to the public. He has proven that his rehabilitation didn’t work by the offences he has committed since he murdered James.”
Two men who posted images they claimed to be of Venables and Thompson are given nine-month prison sentences, suspended for 15 months.
Venables breaches the terms of his Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO), which requires he not go online. The CPS decides not to prosecute and the Probation Service decide the crime is not serious enough to warrant a return to prison. Fergus will later learn of this and accuse the authorities of “hushing up” his behaviour.
Venables is recalled to prison after being caught with child abuse images. As he was led away by police, he said: “This is my own fault. I have let people down again.
“I have had stupid urges, inquisitive. I’m not going to be seeing this for a lot of years. It’s not going to be a slap on the wrist for me.”
In a statement, Fergus said: “Venables has now proven beyond any doubt what a vile, perverted psychopath he has always been.
“I predicted Venables would reoffend unless they kept a very tight rein on him and I pray now that someone from the UK government will finally listen to me.”
25 January 2018
Fergus publishes I Let Him Go.
27 January 2018
Fergus calls for a public inquiry into how the police and justice system have handled Venables. Within a week more than 26,000 people have signed a petition.
7 February 2018
Venables is jailed again. His 40-month sentence means he can apply for parole in October next year.
James’ father Ralph Bulger demands Venables is unmasked “for the safety of the public.”
In a statement, Fergus says: “He will be leaving the court today believing he got away with it.” She also accuses the authorities of “colluding” to cover up the extent of his “vile” behaviour.
“There should be no further collusion or attempts to cover up his offending behaviour. If re-bailed, he must be kept on a very tight leash,” a spokesman added.
James Bulger: A Mother’s Story will air on ITV at 9pm on Thursday.