For families left behind, the pain goes on: After a child's life is taken, the parents' grief is compounded by extra horrors, such as terrible imaginings and struggles with officialdom. Angela Neustatter reports

'On the worst days I get panic attacks when it really hits me that I will never see Paul again. Then I want to go to the cemetery, dig him up and cradle him in my arms.' The emotion is close to the surface, cracking the voice just a little, as Julie Pearson talks of her daily struggle, waking up and going to sleep thinking of Paul, and with the memories of him, chatting, driving her mad on occasions, making her laugh, giving her a goodnight kiss, always there.

It was 18 months ago that seven- year-old Paul was dragged into a hen hut, sexually assaulted and strangled, and his mother talks now of how she and her husband have got through the past year and a half attempting to make sense of lives desecrated by the murder, struggling each day to believe in a future for themselves and their other children.

The sense of rage and impotence at being part of a society that can no longer protect its defenceless young is felt by just about every parent in the country in the wake of James Bulger's death, but ultimately the only people who can offer true understanding, and perhaps some guidance on how to endure the weeks and months ahead, are those who have suffered in the same way. As a spokeswoman for the support organisation Parents of Murdered Children puts it: 'Losing a child in any circumstances is dreadful, but losing your child at the hands of somebody who has chosen to take its life is terrible in a particular way which I do not believe anyone who has not been through this, however compassionate, can truly appreciate.'

The news of James's death and a sense of what his parents must be going through brings the recollections to Mrs Pearson: 'In the first days after we heard we were stunned, scarcely able to take in what had happened, that it could be true, and I am sure that is how James's parents will be feeling now and I can feel their suffering. Those days when life had no sense at all, giving statements, talking to people, somehow trying to cope with the daily needs of my other children, but feeling that everything had gone, that nothing could ever be right again.

'I was very pleased to see that the Bulgers have a female police officer because we had - have - one who was quite simply salvation. She gave us professional expertise, which we needed, but also amazing care and compassion as a woman. She seemed really to be interested in hearing me talk about Paul and she has stayed in contact ever since.

'We have also had great comfort from the community. I don't know what I would have done without the support of the neighbours who listened, gave time, helped us with getting the funeral organised, and just showed how much they cared. It seems clear that the Bulgers' community is doing the same and I do hope they feel able to take that love.

'But we also had to go out and make the effort with people who knew us less well. I don't know whether it is embarrassment or what, but some people avoid you or look away when they see you. I found at Paul's school, when I took the other children, I had to go up to parents and say: 'It's all right, you can talk to me.' They were usually wonderful.

'We also had about 200 letters and cards of support and I found that a comfort, the feeling that the world cared about Paul.

'Because James's mother was with him when he was taken it is natural the focus is on her, but that is how it tends to be anyway. But fathers suffer equally. Paul's dad has gone on recriminating himself, as head of the family, because he feels somehow he should have been able to make things right.

'We grieve differently, and this may be true for the Bulgers. It seems that mothers often want to talk a lot, and I found it helpful and comforting to talk and talk about Paul with close friends who were prepared to let me do that, whereas my husband just wanted to try to block out the pain. With a tragedy of this scale, where you are full of every emotion from raging fury to deepest despair, it may not be possible to comfort or be comforted by your partner, even though they are the person you love most, and it is important to accept that in due course it will be possible to get closer and talk about your feelings.

'The thing that makes me angriest is that we have never learnt what happened in Paul's last hours. It is like the missing parts of a jigsaw puzzle. The murderer chose to say nothing in court so we have had to imagine, and that is terrible. I believe the imaginings are worse than even the worst truth can be and I believe murderers should be forced to tell these things. They owe that to us parents at least, and it seems the law has more concern for their rights than for ours.

'I hope the police will do everything they can to get James's parents those parts of the puzzle. People think you want to be protected but you really want to be as close to the lost child as possible and you want to try to feel that last time with him or her.'

Lesley Moreland and her husband Vic's 23-year-old daughter Ruth was stabbed to death by a young man who got into her flat, and they, too, have suffered from his refusal to talk, to fill in those vital details. The murder of James has reawakened Lesley's memories with a particular poignancy, as she has a two-year-old grandson.

She says: 'The police were shocked when I said I wanted to see the body because Ruth was in such a bad way, but it is very important, however traumatic, as a way of saying goodbye, and I hope the police will make it simple for the Bulgers if they want to see James. Even if they just see a hand and can kiss it goodbye, it enables them to recognise that he really is gone and it is vital to do this.

'One of the hardest things is waiting for the post-mortem to be done and not knowing when there may be a funeral, because the defence, if someone is being charged, can ask for an independent post- mortem. I had to battle to see the post- mortem report before it went to court, but I couldn't bear the idea of hearing it there for the first time.'

Mrs Moreland recalls the sense of bewilderment she felt when the police told her who they had arrested. She says: 'I kept thinking, 'But I don't know anything about him,' and that torments me still - not knowing what kind of person he is or anything about him.

'The weeks immediately after are so very hard. I remember being in Sainsbury's and a bottle shattered as I put it on the moving belt at the cashier's till. It seemed so prophetic, I just stood there shaking and crying.

'I hope nobody will be insensitive enough to say to James's parents, 'Never mind,' as someone did to me, or suggest that having another child would make it better. I remember someone saying to me that my grandchild must have made up for Ruth. But no matter how much you love another child, it can never make up for the lost one.

'I talk about Ruth a lot and look at her photos a great deal. It's very hard imagining what their future might have been like and the anger and pain can rise up then, but I try hard to concentrate on keeping alive a picture of the child I loved and all her wonderful enthusiasm and the joy she brought people. It seems James was a very loved little boy so I hope his parents will feel able to do this too, if it is a comfort to them.'

The Victim Support group has counsellors trained in helping those who have endured a murder in the family. Last year 500 families out of 716 bereaved through murder sought its help. The group is also concerned that the official procedures should be made as painless as possible.

Last year researchers at Liverpool University interviewed 80 people on the impact of a murder on the family. They found that the way the person died preoccupied all the families and that three- quarters of them felt that they had not been given clear information. The same number said that when vague descriptions were given, they believed their imaginings were worse than knowing the true facts, however bad.

A number of families learnt of the death through the media, which was particularly harrowing. Only one person reported a positive experience with the press. People wanted a choice as to whether they or some other relative identified the body. About a quarter of families found it very hard that the place of murder was sealed off and they were not allowed to visit.

People deal with their anguish in different ways, but Mrs Pearson believes the Bulgers should accept all the counselling they are offered. 'You feel so depressed and broken there may seem no point, but it was a great help to our family. I also found joining a group of parents who had also had a child murdered was helpful. In the end they are the only people who can truly understand the particular type of pain.

'At times the struggle seems endless and it would be foolish to say it will all be over soon, because it will never be over. But it does become more possible to put the pain in one place and bring out the good and happy memories of your lost child.'

Mrs Moreland adds her own words of hope: 'There will probably always be days when it all seems unbearable, but I am now able to get some pleasure out of life and I do believe the healing process is, slowly, taking place.'

For the first time since the murder, the Pearsons are looking forward to something. They are going on a trip to Florida. Mrs Pearson says: 'We get enthusiastic with the children and that is a step forward, an important one, but then I suddenly get caught thinking how much Paul would have liked to see Mickey Mouse.'

Victim Support: 071-735 9166;

Parents of Murdered Children: 0708 640400.

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team
sportFive years after being sacked from the job, Peter Moores to be named a cricket coach
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environment
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit