IT DOESN’T take a special anniversary for Ralph Bulger to remember his little boy. Nevertheless it is inevitable that today James’ memory will be especially vivid for his father – and especially painful.
It is exactly 20 years since the toddler’s body was found battered and brutalised on a railway track in Liverpool, an act subsequently described in court as being of ‘unparalleled evil’ and which sent shockwaves across the city and the world.
And although two decades have now passed since the terrible events of February 14 1993 to Ralph they feel like yesterday.
“Does it feel like 20 years? No, not at all. The years have flown over,” says Ralph, who is now 46.
“James is with me every day and I miss him every day. He will always travel with me in my heart.”
His son’s picture is always in his wallet, too. It is an image which became recognised world-wide; a blonde haired boy with a toothy grin and eyes staring out confidently into a future which was to be tragically denied.
“He was always running around, always with his head into everything,” smiles his dad who remembers his first born fondly as a ‘bundle of energy’ and a ‘human tornado’.
“I remember him trying to pull my ears off and breaking the gristle in the top of them. It’s never healed.
“He was the light of my life.”
Ralph has now written a book, My James, detailing for the first time the events of the last 20 years from his own perspective.
It is a moving, almost painful read but also brutal in its honesty, its author recalling James’ murder and the subsequent trial of his killer Jon Venables and Robert Thompson as well as the ongoing legal battles to secure, as Ralph sees it, justice for James.
It also reveals the effect James’ murder had on Ralph and the catastrophic fall out on his personal life.
“I thought it was time to be heard,” he explains.
“Once I decided to do it the memories came easily, although it was very painful.
“It’s a testament too to James. He is at the centre of it all. It seemed that people knew the case but they did not know the boy and I wanted to put that right.”
You suspect the book has been a cathartic process for Ralph who still lives in Kirkby.
“What happened changed me completely,” he admits. “I’m not the person I used to be.”
That Ralph Bulger changed forever on February 12 1993.
It began ordinarily enough with a debate between him and his then wife Denise about whether he should look after James that day. Ralph, however, was working at a relative’s house and was worried about the boy’s safety around his tools.
“Not taking James with me is the single biggest regret of my life,” he says.
It was not until much later that day he first discovered his son was missing although he admits he ‘thought it would be ok’ especially when it was discovered that the child had left The Strand shopping centre in Bootle in the company of two children.
“But then once the hours started to pass I started to lose hope.”
When he was told his son was dead he remembers being ‘frozen’ to the spot and ‘numb from head to foot’.
He was plunged, by his own admission, into a ‘very black place’ with the pain compounded by the revelation that two 10-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, were responsible.
“I didn’t know a human being could hurt so much. When I heard the details of what they had done to James. It killed me.”
Despite the birth of a second son, Michael, later in 1993 the strain of James’ murder and subsequent trail took their toll and he and Denise split.
In the book Ralph admits that initially he blamed Denise for what had happened – a fact of which he is now deeply ashamed – and in a bid to block out the all encompassing pain began to rely heavily on alcohol.
He also considered ending his own life, tortured by guilt and regret that as a father he had been unable to protect his boy.
“The truth is, I couldn’t cope.
“I didn’t come from the kind of background where you went to the doctor to ask for counselling or antidepressants. The booze was my medication.”
Time has not lessened his anger towards the culprits or the legal system which saw them freed after eight years incarceration.
He admits the constant battle to secure a fitting punishment for the boys who took away his son’s life is ‘distressing’ and ongoing – Venables becomes eligible for parole later this year.
“I don’t want to have to keep reliving the same nightmare over and over again but I will do whatever it takes,” he explains.
“The pain of it all is just the same as it was 20 years ago. I have to live with that.”
In a bid to escape that pressure he recalls ‘driving and driving’, usually ending up in Wales.
“But I always came back. I was brought up here and people know me and that’s comforting.”
It’s been a long road. How has he kept going?
“By simply putting one foot in front of the other, that’s all”
He is in a ‘stronger’ place that he has been for some time, however.
Does he ever allow himself to imagine James as he would have been today?
“I think my son would have grown into a tall, strong, handsome young man,” he smiles.
“I imagine us going fishing together, talking, doing ordinary things.
“Just like any father and son.”
My James by Ralph Bulger with Rosie Dunn is published by Sidgwick and Jackson on Thursday priced at £16.99.
MAMAA (Mothers Against Murder and Aggression) was established in the wake of James’ murder in 1993.
It provides practical and emotional support and advocacy to anyone affected by serious crime and/or murder. www.mamaa.org.