Justice for my son too, says Bulger mother

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The Independent Online
THE MOTHER of the murdered toddler James Bulger yesterday made a plea at a European court case brought by lawyers claiming that her son's killers were denied a fair trial. Her appearance at the European Court of Human Rights was hailed by lawyers as a "landmark" event in legal history.

After a two-hour hearing at the court in Strasbourg, Denise Fergus, who has remarried since James's death, said she had attended "because I felt my son James should be represented". Reading from a hand-written statement on the court steps, Ms Fergus said: "I am pleased to have heard the argument before the court. I am pleased that the UK is continuing to fight the appeal."

The decision to permit James Bulger's parents to have their say at the case - restricted to a private hearing by a ruling by the court last month - heralds a move towards the kind of justice associated with Islamic courts where views of the families of victims are taken into account, according to Ms Fergus's solicitor, Sean Sexton.

Laurence Lee, the solicitor representing Jon Venables, who was convicted along with Robert Thompson of the killing, said that while he sympathised with the parents of the toddler, he also asked the public to consider the feelings of the Mr and Mrs Venables. They have also been traumatised by the events, said Mr Lee.

Lawyers for Thompson and Venables, both aged ten at the time of their conviction, have argued that they were denied a fair trial in November 1993 because proceedings were held in an adult court. However, Mr Lee added: "There is no way anybody is looking for a retrial. That would be unthinkable."

In July 1994 the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, ruled that the boys, sentenced to be detained indefinitely, should serve at least 15 years - seven years more than recommended by the trial judge.

Mr Sexton added that he thought it was important that the court had now recognised that victims' rights were important. "It seems to be a case," said Mr Sexton, "that will never go away as far as Denise is concerned. But she will do whatever she can to make sure that James is not forgotten."

Robin Makin, lawyer for James's father, Ralph Bulger, added: "I think that it is a landmark to have had a say before the court of Human Rights".

Ms Fergus's expenses for the visit were paid for by ITN and Mr Bulger did not appear because he was unable to fund the visit to France.

The court is expected to rule on the case before Christmas, although it will not have a direct effect on the release date of the convicted killers. But if the court does finds against the UK government, Parliament will be obliged to change the law to ensure that the same situation is not repeated.

Yesterday's hearing resulted from a complaint lodged in 1994 with the European Commission of Human Rights, which has already ruled that the two boys were denied a fair trial and has complained that the tariff was not set by a judicial body. The Commission referred the case to the court in March this year.