Twenty years on from the murder of James Bulger, Albert Kirby – former head of Merseyside Police’s serious crime squad – writes exclusively for the Post about the case and its enormous impact
WHEN I went to work on the morning on Friday, February 12 1993, as the head of Merseyside’s serious crime squad, I could never have thought the events of the following week and the prosecution of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables would still be clear in many people’s minds, not only in Liverpool but throughout the world, even after 20 years.
During that afternoon I was made aware James had gone missing as he accompanied his mother Denise shopping in The Strand precinct in Bootle. During the day the weather conditions were not very pleasant. It was extremely cold and very misty.
Our searches and appeals failed to locate James and as the evening progressed I became increasingly concerned what had happened to him.
During the following day searches continued using specialist teams to examine canals, railway lines and embankments.
Both local and national media outlets had been monitoring our enquiries and we were soon working with media attention comprising 130 journalists from 13 countries throughout the world.
This type of attention was and still is unprecedented and resulted in a deluge of calls to the major incident room at Marsh Lane police station.
It was not until the Sunday afternoon – when James’s body was found – that we knew the type of investigation we were undertaking.
I clearly remember attending the railway line at the rear of Walton Lane police station and witnessing a murder scene like no other I had seen.
As the crime scene examiners and medical experts came to the railway line their distress was only too obvious but they had a job to do and they did it with true professionalism.
When I returned to Marsh Lane police station Denise and the policewoman who supported the family for many years, Mandy Waller, were in the yard area. I will never forget that as I walked towards Denise, without me saying a word, she read my own distress and let out the most bloodcurdling scream I have ever heard.
Despite having led many murder investigations all the inquiry team were deeply moved by what had taken place.
As I held the daily briefings it was not unusual the see some members of the team wiping away tears.
It was not until after the arrest of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables I told the detectives who were going to interview them the full extent of James’s injuries. I concealed this information as I was concerned that to have disclosed it earlier would have caused further distress to my team and the possibility of some of the details coming to the notice of either the public at large or the media.
As the days progressed it became apparent from the video images within the shopping precinct that not only had two young boys taken James from his mother but they were probably responsible for causing his death. The possibility of this having occurred was difficult for us all to appreciate. I have never been too proud to seek advice but other than the Mary Bell murders in Newcastle in 1967 no force had faced this challenging situation and I had to consider many issues to safeguard a successful investigation.
It is at times like this when the vast experience of my inquiry team was invaluable.
Between us we agreed how we would arrest the offenders once they had been identified. We planned how we would ensure they were dealt with in the most appropriate manner while in police custody and protect them from the public who were becoming increasingly angry.
This process was later closely examined by child care experts and the European Court, who all felt we had been exemplary and considerate in our actions, as did Mrs Venables who sent a card thanking us for the way we had dealt with her son.