Susan Lee talks to Denise Fergus about the murder of her beloved son, James, 20 years ago
DENISE FERGUS refuses to live in the past.
Despite the defining event of her life happening 20 years ago tomorrow, she is not one to dwell unnecessarily on what has gone before.
There is too much to fight for today.
“Do I replay the moment James was taken over and over again? No, I don’t. I won’t go back to that day,” she says simply.
“It’s with me always, of course, but I’d be reliving it each and every day all the time and I need to be in the here and now, both for my family and for James.
“There is still so much to do. I’ll never give up fighting for justice for him.”
Sitting in a riverside office, Denise, now 45 and with three other children – all boys – is relaxed, confident and smiling.
“I know, all the pictures you ever see of me have me scowling but that’s usually because I’ve been caught coming in and out of court or a press conference,” she laughs.
Smaller than you imagine and dressed in a smart suit with an eyecatching scarf at her neck, she admits it’s been a long and tiring day with back-to-back newspaper and television interviews.
Her face lights up with a mum’s pride, though, when I ask about James.
With his image – all colourful patterned jumper and gap- toothed smile – appearing again and again down the years, we all feel we know him but, of course, we don’t. What was he like?
“He was a lovely little boy, always smiling, with thick blonde hair. He loved to make people laugh and never walked anywhere when he could run.
“He loved Michael Jackson, too, and would try to dance like him. It was so funny. He was just gorgeous.”
He was also very precious. Denise and her first husband, Ralph, had already lost one child, a daughter Kirsty, to stillbirth before James arrived and Denise admits it prompted her to be ultra-protective of her son.
Which makes the events of Friday, February 12, 1993, all the more cruel in their irony.
Having gone shopping to The Strand, in Bootle, Denise let go of her son’s hand for a second in order to retrieve her purse and pay for an item in a butcher’s shop.
Within moments, the toddler had been lured away by Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Those infamous, grainy CCTV images of the two 10-year-olds walking with the boy, his hand trustingly thrust into theirs, remain as chilling today as they were 20 years ago.
James’ body was found two days later on railway tracks in Walton. He had been tortured and beaten and died from his injuries.
The murder sent shockwaves around the city and the world and plunged Denise into every parent’s worst nightmare.
“In many ways, it feels as if it happened yesterday,” she reflects sadly.
“There have been some very dark days since but none as dark as the day James was taken; it doesn’t get any worse than that.
“I don’t think I truly realised what was happening. I was numb. I certainly could never have imagined what was to come and what would be thrown at us.”
Denise admits that even now she has “what ifs” about that day – if she hadn’t reached for her purse or gone into that shop.
She also remains uncertain whether she is in possession of the full details of what was inflicted on her son that cold February afternoon, although that has brought its own advantage, however slender.
“If the kids ever ask me questions now, I can say ‘I don’t know the answer to that’ and that’s the truth.”
The media spotlight, too, has been unrelenting down the years, something to which she has had to acclimatise.
“Interest in the case is just as high as ever,” Denise affirms.
“I think that’s because no-one can believe to this day that two 10-year-old boys could do what they did. And I suppose people also want to know how the story will end.”