In the steps of Jamie…
Evening Standard | 5 Nov 1993
THE man who looks like George Bernard Shaw is queueing for Court One where two schoolboys stand accused of killing James Bulger. He has wild long hair, a streaming beard, carries three plastic bags and later, in the public gallery, he wears odd socks on his hands and eats a Cornish pastie. After him, another man tries to gain entry to the court with a bus ticket instead of a public gallery pass. He mumbles incomprehensibly as the police officers turn him away.View transcript
THE man who looks like George Bernard Shaw is queueing for Court One where two schoolboys stand accused of killing James Bulger. He has wild long hair, a streaming beard, carries three plastic bags and later, in the public gallery, he wears odd socks on his hands and eats a Cornish pastie. After him, another man tries to gain entry to the court with a bus ticket instead of a public gallery pass. He mumbles incomprehensibly as the police officers turn him away.
Next day, Matt Jones, a 26-year-old aspiring novelist, comes by train from London for his first visit to a court. He arrives in Preston at 3am. Outside the court, photographers camp to snap the two police vans with blocked-out windows which hide the two defendants. I go through security, body search and past uniformed police with radio earplugs into the imposing wood-panelled Edwardian courtroom. Inside, there are 19th century oil paintings of High Sheriffs and Clerks of the Peace – among them Judge Batty Addison, ‘the terror of the criminal’ – and white plaster cherubs holding up the ceiling corners with swags of fruit and flowers.
>From the public gallery, one sees only the backs and neat haircuts of Child A and B, in charcoal jackets. They are seated on grey chairs on a specially raised dock and next to a burly social worker.
The call comes for the court to rise – and the children barely reach the social workers’ shoulders.
Ralph Bulger, father of James, sits on the seat in front of me. On the first day he listened impassively as the court was told by Richard Henriques QC for the prosecution, the defendants had subjected James to a beating with bricks, stones and metal, before his body was placed on a railway line. The second day, Mr Henriques puts the prosecution case that the children denied all knowledge of the two-year-old and then blamed the murder on each other. As more horrifying details are disclosed to the hushed court, Mr Bulger – with slicked back hair and a gold heart on his lapel – swallows hard. His brother sits nearby, tearing at the skin on his fingers. Behind them in the public gallery, women press their hands to their faces in gestures of self-comfort.
As Mr Henriques recounts Child A’s police interviews – ‘he picked up a big metal thing that had holes in it and hit him on the head,’ – Mr Bulger’s eyelashes flutter frantically in an attempt to stop himself crying. As the QC quotes – ‘I was trying to see if the baby was still alive and he would not move. I got my ear against his belly and he wasn’t breathing’ – the muscles in Mr Bulger’s face twitch uncontrollably. As we hear of Child B’s account that ‘A’ (had) thrown paint in (James’s) face. ‘A threw a brick into his face . . . I picked up little stones because I would not throw bricks at him’ – Mr Bulger bends his head. It’s hard not to cry in this courtroom. There are frequent breaks for the children, legal language is simplified as for a classroom and the court finishes at schooltime.
Mr Henriques invites the jury to steel itself for photographs of the two-and-a-half-mile route along which the boys are alleged to have led James.
Mrs Z, a young housewife, gives evidence of the boys’ alleged attempt to abduct her two-year-old son on the day of James’s death. At the end of the proceedings, Mr Bulger stands watching Boy B’s parents as they leave. On the third morning of the hearing, written evidence from Denise Bulger, mother of the dead child, is submitted to the court. It is heard how she looked desperately for her little boy as she shopped at the Strand centre in Bootle, Merseyside. That is where I am this morning – following James’s march to death.
Outside the shop, T J Hughes, in which Mrs Z was shopping when the boys allegedly attempted to abduct her son, grannies in woollen hats gossip on a wooden bench. Nearby a board displays photographs of the bruised faces of two children. ‘The faces change, the bruises don’t,’ it reads. These are NSPCC posters depicting a child in 1884 and one in 1984. Past them, anoraked children trail after their shopping parents.
A three-year-old girl is being led around by a 14-year-old boy – whose mother is in H Samuels. This is a school morning and, in five minutes, I see half a dozen schoolchildren with skinhead cuts sagging off school. Nearby, the canal – to which it is claimed the boys took James – looks bleak, like a floating rubbish tip. In neighbouring Bootle Library a man is reading a story to a group of schoolchildren dressed neatly in grey: a tale of a child who leaves his home without telling his parents and is presumed lost. ‘What should you do if you go out to play?’ the man asks them. ‘Tell yer mum, cos she’d be worried,’ they chorus.
Then on to Breeze Hill and up to the grass-covered reservoir where James was allegedly dragged. Today, at 11.50am a lone child in school uniform stands kicking his feet. Then past grey high-rises under a grey sky and under a grey subway beneath a grey flyover. I am tired of walking. But on to the alleyway opposite the Walton Lane police station, past desolate houses with the rubbish stacked outside and trails of dog excrement, to the two tracks of the railway where James is said to have met his end. Today, a magpie sits on the line.
In court in the afternoon, I sit in the row in front of the jury. The defendants are wearing stripy school ties. Boy A has forsaken his jacket. Next to Boy B sits his father, a slight man in a turtle-neck sweater and jacket. His face looks wan. He hunches his shoulders and his forehead is constantly furrowed. Then the children settle to watch the television – these are the videos showing two boys allegedly abducting James in the shopping precinct. Child B points to the screen and speaks to his social worker.
As the figures come onto the screen, with arrows from the prosecution to highlight them, both boys sit peering through the rail of the dock. Child B’s father stares at the monitor intently, then he gives up and just looks down. Like some early silent cinema, the court is quiet for 18 minutes but for the sound of people shifting on their seats. Mr Henriques puts his hand up, as if to ask the teacher a question. In reality, he wants to freeze a frame. Next to Boy B, junior counsel Richard Isaacson, props his slipping head on his hand and closes his eyes for a moment.
The jury asks to see the last part of the video again. Boy B’s shirt is hanging out. Nearby, eight men in wigs and gowns, a multitude of uniformed policemen, a jury of nine men and three women and the world’s Press concentrate on the screens.
Down the road is the media annexe, in an office block with panoramic views of Preston. In court it is sometimes hard to hear witnesses. ‘Do speak up please,’ Mr Justice Morland implores frequently but in the annexe on the audio system, the sound is better. And the world’s Press eat McDonald’s, smoke and drink coffee.