BT disowns James Bulger pictures: Parents of murdered child 'appalled and upset' by images at a London art exhibition sponsored by telecoms company. James Cusick reports

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The Independent Online
BRITISH TELECOM last night asked for pictures linked to the murder of James Bulger to be withdrawn from an art exhibition it sponsored, after the child's parents said they were 'appalled and upset'.

The two ink-jet prints at the Whitechapel gallery in east London are for sale at pounds 2,235 each. Both are taken from video stills; one shows James being abducted and the other the railway embankment where he was killed.

BT's request came as Ralph and Denise Bulger handed in a 250,000-signature petition at the Home Office calling on Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to ensure the boys found guilty of their son's murder served 'life sentences'. Sean Sexton, the family's solicitor, revealed that both parents had been 'appalled and upset' by the pictures.

A live television interview and a press conference were cancelled. Mr Sexton said: 'When they learnt that a picture showing their son being taken away in the Bootle shopping mall, Merseyside, by the two 10-year-old boys, and another showing the railway embankment where he died, were up for sale at pounds 2,235 each at an art gallery, they simply couldn't believe it.'

Last night BT said it had asked the Whitechapel to 'withdraw the two pictures due to the sensitivities expressed by the Bulger family'. The company denied it was acting as censor and said the final decision lay with the gallery. The Whitechapel was not available for comment.

Mr Sexton said it was 'outrageous' that someone was trying to profit from the death of James Bulger. Neither the parents nor Mr Sexton had been approached by the artist, Jamie Wagg, or the gallery, for permission.

The Whitechapel show has a month left to run. Both pictures, described as 'cartoons for tapestry' are hung in the large upstairs gallery. They are high-quality ink-jet prints taken from digital information supplied by Mr Wagg.

Chris Buckingham of ODO Colour Imaging, the London firm that produced the pictures, said the pictures were taken directly from video stills. 'The prints would have cost, using electro-static colour techniques, about pounds 300 each.'

BT said that the pounds 2,235 price tags of each picture barely covers their cost.

A gallery manager at the Whitechapel said extra security had been put in place when the pictures were hung because it was feared they could be attacked.

Mr Wagg, an art teacher living in east London, said he considered the pictures to be a memorial.

The petition handed into the Home Office asked Mr Howard to take into account the views of Mr and Mrs Bulger. They want the two boys ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure for the murder of their son to be detained for life.

It was revealed last week that lawyers acting for the killers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, are to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against their indefinite detention.

The appeal will also seek to remove the right of the Home Secretary to continue the judicial role he has in determining when such offenders can be released. The appeal has received the financial backing of an American attorney.

Among those visiting the gallery yesterday were Suzie Ersahim and William Easton, artists from Kansas, with their nine- month-old son, Elliot. They said they had not felt offended and did not think the pictures were in poor taste.

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