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The killers and the victims

Thompson and Venables
Thompson and Venables  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Who are Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the two youths who at the age of 10 brutally killed toddler James Bulger?

And what can be said of two-year-old James, whose life was horrifically cut short before it had hardly begun?

And what of his parents, who fought against the release of their son's killers?

Here is a look at the people involved in this most astonishing of human dramas:

Killer: Robert Thompson

Thompson, known as Child A during his and Venables' 1993 trial, was one of seven children from what reportedly was a dysfunctional family suffering from abuse, alcohol, unemployment and an absent father.

He and Venables were schoolmates and frequent truants, with Liverpool's inner city as their playground. Both of them had fallen back a year in their studies

bush The James Bulger Case
  • Case overview
  • Killers' new lives
  • Internet threat
  • Memories of horror
  • Killers and victims
  • Blunkett statement
  • Timeline of events
  From TIME
  • Killer boys grow up
  • Photo essay

  Court rulings
  • 1997: House of Lords
  • 1999: European Court
  • 2000: Lord Chief Justice

  Related sites
  • Justice for James
  • UK Parole Board

  News archive
  • Pleas for restraint
  • Press breach probed
  • Reformers welcome move
  • Parents' fury at release
  • Freedom for killers
  • Killers face hurdle
  • Anger at decision
  • Sentence review due
  • European court ruling


At the time of the murder, neighbours had little good to say about Thompson. "On this street, he was "Master Jekyll" and around the corner, "Master Hyde," simple as that," said one neighbour.

"He could easily portray himself as a nice boy, and he had a good-looking smile about him," said Police Sgt. Phil Roberts. "The evil side of it would be when the questions were difficult. He had just that glare in his eye, which is very hard to explain ... a chilling glare."

As Thompson and Venables led a weeping, bleeding James Bulger along the streets of Liverpool to his death, it was Thompson who glibly lied to the few adults who stopped to question them. By all accounts except his own, he was the ringleader.

When the verdicts of guilty were read in court, Thompson showed no reaction.

Years later, a psychiatrist's report on Thompson -- quoted by Lord Chief Justice Woolf in his judgment setting the killers' sentences back to eight years -- said: "Robert has made exceptional progress in his current placement with regard to maturity, education and insight gained in therapy. Robert accepts responsibility for the grave acts he committed in the offence and shows great remorse for the pain and suffering he caused."

In describing attempts to prepare for the pair's release, Thompson has been taken to see the Manchester United football team play at Old Trafford, to see the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon and to visit shopping malls such as the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Meadowhall in Sheffield, according to The Observer newspaper.

During his education in custody, Thompson gained five GCSEs, A levels, and is interested in textiles and fashion design, The Observer said, adding that as a special project he made a wedding dress.

Killer: Jon Venables

Venables, known as Child B during the trial, was described as a weak, if willing, follower. One of three children, his mother and father were separated but were described as caring and involved parents.

When the verdict was read in court, Venables broke down in tears.

A consultant adolescent forensic psychiatrist who examined Venables years later said: "He has made exceptional progress ... with personal development, acknowledgement of the enormity of his offence, understanding of his actions as a child, and in his 'normal' adolescent development in 'abnormal circumstances.'"

Venables has been taken to pubs, to play five-a-side football and on day trips to go abseiling and white-water rafting in preparation for his release, according to The Observer newspaper. He is reported to have been overweight at one stage during custody but has lost weight to prepare for his release.

While in custody, Venables gained six GCSEs with good grades, plus A levels.

According to the News of the World tabloid, Venables allegedly will live with his parents in a semi-detached house in a town in the North of England where his parents settled with new identities in 1996.

Victim: James Bulger

James Bulger was born on March 16, 1990 at Fazakerley Hospital in Liverpool.

James Bulger  

He lived with his parents, Denise and Ralph Bulger, at their home in Kirkby, Merseyside. According to a Web site established by his mother, James was a "blond-haired bundle of fun (who) always had plenty of cousins and friends to play with."

He was almost three when he was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by two 10-year-old boys on February 12, 1993.

That day, James was taken by the hand from outside a butcher's shop in the Bootle Strand shopping centre on Merseyside by Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Momentarily distracted, James' mother and had taken her eyes off her son. When she turned around, he was gone.

Surveillance cameras in the shopping centre filmed Thompson and Venables leading James out of the centre and to his death on a railway line 2 1/2 miles away. Witness after witness testified seeing a crying bleeding James tugged along by the boys, but no-one intervened.

According to a reported confession, Thompson and Venables considered a variety of ways to kill James, including watching him drown or pushing him into traffic to be run over. They tried to drown James, covered him with paint, stomped and kicked him, and beat him to death with rocks, bricks and an iron rod. They left his body on the tracks to be cut in half by a train.

For two cold February days, the toddler's whereabouts remained a mystery before his body was discovered on a lonely stretch of railroad track.

Victim's parents: Denise Fergus and Ralph Bulger

James Bulger's parents, Denise and Ralph Bulger, divorced sometime after the 1993 trial.

Ralph Bulger, who has since remarried, recently failed in a High Court bid to block the early release of his son's killers. He said he had been denied justice and pledged to do his best to "hunt them down."

Justice for James Web Site
James' mother, Denise Fergus, has set up a Web site in her fight against the release of her son's killers  

James' mother, who has also remarried, set up a Web site called "Justice for James" and has campaigned to block the killers' release and have their identities revealed once released under a police protection programme.

Denise Fergus recently called on future girlfriends and friends of Thompson and Venables to photograph them at the first opportunity to ensure their identities are revealed.

"It doesn't matter how much the authorities spend trying to protect Venables and Thompson, it will be impossible for them to keep their identities a secret from girlfriends they meet in the future, or drinking buddies," she said in a statement.

Fergus attended the trial of her son's killers for the first time on its final day, to hear the jury's verdict of guilty. Eight months pregnant at the time, she reportedly couldn't bear to go before.

After the trial, the parents made no comment, speaking instead through their lawyer, Sean Sexton: "The trial may have finished, but unfortunately for Ralph and Denise and the rest of the family the nightmare will never end."

After a court ruled in early 2001 that the killers' new identities must not be revealed, Fergus issued this statement:

"If this privacy order stays in place the press and media in this country will be gagged. But the judges cannot control the world media. Thanks to the Internet, anybody with a computer will be able to read all the details any foreign newspapers are printing. [The killers] will be recognised and found out under any new name wherever they go. Every minute they will have to look over their shoulders ... they will never be able to relax. That is some comfort to me -- to know they will always be haunted and hunted."

• Justice for James
• UK Parole Board

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