Remembering the unthinkable

Exactly four years after Liverpool toddler Jamie Bulger was murdered by two ten-year-old boys, journalist Blake Morrison has written a provocative book about the case. Here he explains why he is retracing one of Britain’s most disturbing murder cases.

- In February l993. two ten-year-old boys abducted two-year-old James Bulger from a Liverpool shopping centre. walked with him for two and a half miles to a railway line and there. as darkness fell. battered him to death with bricks and an iron bar.

Some deaths are emblematic. tipping the scales. and little James‘s death was a defining moment in our culture: the unthinkable thought of. the undoable done. Children were looked at with new suspicion. and toddlers kept on tight reins.

Nine months after the killing. the boys accused of murdering James Buiger Robert Thompson and Jon Venables - appeared in court. in Preston. An

American magazine invited me. to go there and write about it. l‘d never been to a murder trial before. and felt a boyish excitement at the prospect. Like anyone would be. i was curious to see what the boys looked like and to hear what they had to say. I also hoped to answer the question everyone was asking: why?

I did get to see the boys: the lirst shock was realising how small they were. and how little they justified the tabloid comparisons with Myra Hindley and Saddam Hussein. But i didn‘t get to hear them. except on the taped interviews the police had conducted. which were played aloud in court. The tapes were very distressing. not least because of the boys‘ own distress: these weren't the cunning. ‘evil'. unremorseful monsters we‘d all read about. As they sat there day after day. I began to wonder to what extent they understood the court proceedings. Listening to all the particulars of who and when and where and how. I also despaired of finding an answer to the much bigger question: why?

The boys were found guilty of murder. but nearly three years on. the length of sentence they should serve is still being fiercely debated Michael Howard's right to increase the trial judge's recomrrrendation from eight years to fifteen is under chaHenge.

I've written a book about the Bulger case that tries to give some answers —- by looking at the boys‘ homes. retracing the route they took that February day. and drawing on psychiatric and social reports which were considered ‘inadmissible evidence' at the trial. This material may not offer a single. all- embracing solution. but it does force us to reconsider the justice of the verdict.

Not that Thompson and Venables are innocent of killing James Bulger. But whether they should be

blake Morrison: looking for answers about the Bulger case

held fully responsible for their actions is very doubtful. In England. children as young as ten are treated as adults if they have committed murder in Scotland the age of criminal responsibility is eight and must stand trial in adult courts. This is seriously out of line with the treatment in Britain of all other young offenders. who are guaranteed anonymity and tried in special juvenile courts.

I hope people will think again about this case and to provoke them I‘ve also included in the hook some highly personal material. memories and reflections on what it is to be a child and what it is to be a parent. Thompson and Venables will rightly be detained for several more years. But ifone day they are lit to re- enter society. as adults. they should have the chance to be reintegrated. Unless opinions change. and the tabloids cease their vindictive campaign. they will never be given it.

Blake Morrison is a journalist. poet and nut/1m: As If is published by Grumu a! £14. 99.

State of the unions

In its centenary year, the sruc laces an uncertain future. llnions today have to battle with the ‘global economy’, mass unemployment, plummeting membership and a raft of anti-union legislation brought in during eighteen years of Conservative government.

The trade union movement has little confidence that Tony Blair’s Labour Party will change the situation it it seizes power. Given the gloomy scenario, a book charting the STUC’s history may be timely, but it also poses a tew questions - can there possibly be a sequel? Or is The Bairns 0’ Adam: The Story of the


Balms 0’ Adam could have been

the tanks being sent into Glasgow’s Trongate, 1919

afraid to be critical.

friendly account, but Aitken is not

to the challenges of the future.

Spiers admits those challenges are substantial. The whole idea of collective action has been weakened. ‘A generation and a hall of young people have grown up with an individualistic culture, with few union successes to inspire them,’ he explains.

There are signs of change though. Workers in Glasgow’s Glacier metal plant recently won their reinstatement, and Spiers believes public opinion is shifting. ‘Opinion polls are showing the public think the balance of power in workplaces has swung too tar away from the worker,’ he says. ‘Job insecurity has made people much more open to the elforts of unions.’

And if unions have been undermined in recent years, Spiers sees a healthier future on the horizon: ‘The sruc has played an important role in Scotland in the absence of


STUD an epitaph?

Deputy secretary general of the sruc, Bill Spiers is encouraged by the book’s publication. ‘It reminded me that there never was a golden age of trade unionisrn,’ he says. ‘0ur whole history has been one of

heavy going, but this is an intriguing story, full of characters, triumphs and mistakes. Although invited to write it by the sruc, the organisation did not interfere with the ellorts of freelance political journalist Keith Aitken. What has emerged is a broadly union-

‘Many of the doors which the sruc set out to open for Scottish working people are now sealed shut, and others lead into abandoned rooms,’ he says. Relations with the labour Party in particular are at a ‘low ebb’, but he argues the sruc will be equal

democratic institutions. We might be seen much more as a social partner by a future Scottish government.’ (Stephen llaysmith)

The Balms 0’ Adam: The Story 0! The sun: ls published by Polygon at £14.99.

The List 7-20 Feb i997 85 _