In 1993 I began a new job in Liverpool and I found myself walking through The Strand shopping centre in Bootle. About a week earlier James Bulger’s brutally murdered body had been found nearby and the grainy CCTV footage of two children leading a toddler through the centre had become ingrained in the collective mind of a nation.
Merseyside grieved and – as it so often does – demanded answers. There was a mixture of anger, disbelief and embarrassment. Footage is often shown of self-appointed stalwarts of the community shouting abuse at the police van leaving the court. I was once informed by an employee of South Sefton Magistrates that the boys weren’t in the ‘decoy’ vehicles but I’ve no way of testing the veracity.
As I walked In that shopping arcade,I noticed an underlying trend: mothers gripped children’s hands tightly as if they were about to slip down a mountain.
I’ve seen some of the details of the Bulger case that most people haven’t and it they don’t make easy Reading. On the other hand, many of the rumours knocking around at the time were wide of the mark.
I remember receiving an email from someone in Austria a few years later wondering if Liverpool was a safe place given what those boys had done. Of course, several years later an equally fatuous inquiry could have been made of the land of Joseph Fritzl and Natasha Kampusch.
I seem to recall pointing out that such cases were rare and outlining the Mary Bell case.
What has been disappointing about the news of Venables return to custody is that it felt like a kick in thevteeth to those of us that believe rehabilitation can be achieved. We were well aware that the tabloids knew the whereabouts and identities of the killers and were just waiting for the opportunity to challenge the injunction IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST; the fact that nothing substantial was printed spoke volumes.
Even Albert Kirby, the detective who led the investigation, has expressed disapppointment at the news. Kirby is often to be heard whenever similar cases hit the headlines. However, he has not allowed himself to be a mere rentaquote and treads a difficult line between support for Denise Fergus and hope for the perpetrators.
In To Kill A Mocking Bird, Atticus Finch is reported to believe thatbyou cannot truly know a man unless you’ve walked in his shoes. Even so it is near impossible to try to empathise with anyone losing a child in such horrific ‘beyond belief ‘ circumstances. Similarly for those of us with fortunate upbringings it is difficult to know what brought about those events in Bootle. But try we must for there are vociferous groups around.
The story has allowed the hang the scum Tricoteures of the Mail readership to iron their ‘told you so’ T shirts. Gordon Brown implicitly cops some of the blame notwithstanding the fact that none of the main players had lived under anything other than a Tory Government.
Some commentators felt that more information should be forthcoming if only to stop the ongoing speculation.
This view does have some credibility – the notion of justice being seen to be done. Indeed, it may be argued that having breached his licence terms, Venables has given up his rights in this department. But should we be dictated to by unaccountable bodies such as the press? Are we to be governed by the shoutiest and by petition?
What is clear is that by making the (forced) announcement, Venables is in a precarious position. We all know how prisons have their own form of sentencing guidelines (and note the irony of hardliners lauding criminals acting as arbiters of justice) .
Whenever an infamous inmate is attacked there is ne’er a murmur of comment from the tabloids, only a smug reporting of facts to stir up the vigilantism and vengeance of the battering classes.
Any prisoner of a certain age entering in the week when the story broke will be subject to increased scrutiny and frantic calls to Solicitors for copies of depositions will be made as soon as phone cards are available.
The growing clamour for more information is actually raising some interesting issues. It’s been suggested to me that this is the same as the 42 day detention proposal – that not knowing charges a la Guantanamo Bay leads to a Kafka nightmare. The only problem here is that Venablesvwill be made aware of the charges ( if any) and reasons for loss of freedom. That basic right does not extend to the public via the hounding press.
Since starting this piece there have been more developments: it now appears that Venables has been detained for serious – possibly sexual – offences.
Mrs Fergus has become centre stage in the matter and has gone as far as demanding sacking of childrens commissiner along in addition to the social services detailed with looking after the post release Venables.
Again this is preposterous. Whilst it may be wondered why the comments have been made at this stage and it is easy to understand how Denise Fergus is upset by it, this is a view put forward many times before.
In the online story in the Liverpool Echo one vociferous commenter went as far as suggest that she was as bad as killers. Ale house talk and he knows it.
We’ve also had the ‘outing’ of an innocent man who has been targeted by vigilante, bar room lawyers. His family is under threat for the crime of being from Merseyside and offendedvin the past. Sinister shades of the victimisation of an innocent Liverpool family in the days before the arrest of the Bulger killers.
Other parts of Europe have different age thresholds. Such age limits can only be arbitrary. I well remember buying beer in Austria at 16 smugly oblivious to the fact that this was the legal age. Perennial debates crop up on voting age, driving tests and the like.
In a couple of months heaven forfend we may see the first PM younger than me. How old is old enough?
Aside from this is the fact that certain people mature at different rates. I know of girls who’ve had babies at 15 and did a great parenting job; and women in 30s whose offspring come a poor third to drink and fags.
In the Bulger case, it is clear that not only were these children emotionally backward but also educationally lacking.
What is particularly sad about this matter ( as I said at start) is how well they seem to have done when given the support they were starved of as kids. Unfortunately, peers and subsequent residents did not have this. One child – James Bulger himself – never got the chance to find out what his life lottery card would hand him.
A greater tragedy is that a Labour Govenment charged with eradicating chid poverty has failed and that such a case, however rare, can and will happen again.
In the meantime while the soul searching and quest for solutions continue, it is important to take stock; by all means walk in Finch’s shoes but also take a step back and remember that mob mentality cannot be allowed to override our basic decency.
It is much to my chagrin that Jim Reeves was #1 when I was born rather than The Beatles but there you go.
This is an experiment with WordPress as a lot of people seem to prefer it over Blogger. The original Eric The Fish blog can be found at THIS ADDRESS.
To begin with, some photos from Tranmere’s dreadful performance against Leeds last week. I still have difficulty nailing these night time action shots.
TRANMERE ROVERS 1 LEEDS UNITED 4