Bulger creche to be closed

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ONE OF the few positive legacies from the horror of James Bulger's death is to be lost because of a lack of money.

A creche, set up by a group of mothers near the place where the two-year- old was abducted at The Strand shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, has had all its applications for further funding turned down and will close within weeks.

The Strand is a bright, clean and colourful place but the world only remembers the monochrome closed-circuit television images of James being led away on a February day six years ago.

The creche was opened because no child was meant ever to wander off in The Strand again. But a council grant application has been turned down, an anonymous benefactor has withdrawn after offering pounds 10,000 for the last three years, and few of the centre's 100-plus stores are willing to chip in with funding to ensure its future.

"When kids are playing up you hear mothers saying `I've told you, we're in The Strand now'," said a woman in the store yesterday. Everyone says that when the Tannoy here reports a child missing, the whole place still freezes.

The creche employs four qualified childcare staff and its annual running costs are pounds 53,000 a year. A trust fund set up in James's name after more than pounds 160,000 of donations flooded in, has avoided any association with the creche.

Creche staff concede that a more overt association with the James Bulger name may have helped their long-running struggle for funding although, ironically, it would have been a difficult tag to work with. "Wedon't want to keep referring back," said the creche's manager Anne Parker.

The creche, which charges parents pounds 1.60 per hour, concedes it cannot be self-financing. "People say `why not put the fees up?'," said Ms Parker. "But that would only bring in an extra pounds 500 per year and our aim is to be accessible."

Sefton Council said it provided a pounds 30,000 start-up grant to the creche and has received charity bids far in excess of its budget. "The creche does charge and it's up to them to establish themselves as a viable proposition," said a spokesman.

The National Lottery Charities Board confirmed it had received a bid for pounds 28,000 part-funding but did not feel the creche could have raised the rest of the money needed.

Bootle seems to find itself in a twisted labyrinth of emotions, wanting to remember a helpless victim in a typically Liverpudlian way but wanting to forget too. Sunshine coaches, funded by the trust fund, carry James's face through the streets of the city but otherwise there are strikingly few reminders of him. That is why closing the creche is like "pulling down a war memorial," said Albert Kirby, the detective who apprehended James's 10-year-old killers.

"Something must mark the little lad's passing and it would be upsetting to think that what little goodness has come out has disappeared because of finances," he said.

Mr Kirby's occasional lunchtime walks away from the office confirmed anxieties, always hidden from obvious view, in Bootle in the years which followed the murder. "People would always stop me and just want to talk," he said.

It is a mood confirmed by the local priest, Father Michael Lindsay. "For a time you saw the young parents with the children on reins," he said. "The healing is gradual but I believe a certain joy has been taken away from parents here."