Bulger case lawyer spurred by international sense of injustice: Jonathan Foster reports on the US attorney making headlines in Britain over appeals by two 10-year-old killers

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The Independent Online
TOM LOFLIN, the lawyer behind the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights by the killers of Jamie Bulger, was absorbed last night in another piece of advocacy - his support for the baseball team in his home town of Durham, North Carolina, in a fixture against their coastal rivals, Kinston.

The 51-year-old attorney was in his usual seat on the bleachers at the Durham Bulls' park. Minor league baseball is quintessential to the idealised American family summer, a stark contrast to the lives of the three wretched north Liverpool families enmeshed in the Bulger tragedy.

It would be easy, but mistaken, to attribute Mr Loflin's six-month involvement in the case - first reported in the Independent on Sunday - merely to the interfering impulse of a middle- class liberal.

Tom Loflin's views on the case have been shared from the outset by many English lawyers, some of them in Liverpool. Unlike them, Mr Loflin was not restrained by the decorous ethical rules of a self-regulating profession. The legal profession's conduct in the Bulger case is central to the narrative of the events leading to the appeals lodged this week at the European Court of Human Rights.

The appeals do not claim Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were wrongly accused of causing James's death. But they reflect a belief that Mr Loflin has been free to argue most strongly that the response to his horrific treatment by two 10-year- olds owed more to knee-jerks than jurisprudence. 'I am absolutely appalled that anyone who knows anything about criminal defence would permit a child to give up his right to remain silent and answer police questions,' he wrote to one of the defence barristers last year. 'How could a child of 10 possibly waive his right to remain silent in a knowing, understanding, intelligent manner?'

Mr Loflin compiled a 14- page document outlining various issues he thought could and should form the basis of an appeal against the murder convictions and indefinite life sentences imposed in November on the boys.

Nothing happened; the deadline for an appeal passed. Lawyers for Thompson and Venables had concluded that an appeal was groundless.

Mr Loflin demurred. 'I was shocked and appalled,' he told colleagues. 'As I read about the trial, I became outraged at the numerous violations of the boys rights to a fair trial, and I reached a number of highly intelligent persons in England who had also been concerned.

'For example, I have conferred with experienced counsel in London, and received the opinion that confessions obtained in the circumstances surrounding the boys' arrest could be challenged in the courts.'

The Loflin effect was to be a catalyst, and those who have watched him during 23 years representing clients in trials and appeals never doubted he would lobby anyone prepared to listen.

In 1988 he had successfully defended a woman, charged with the murder of her boyfriend, against whom forensic evidence was brought showing the gun barrel had been pressed to his chest.

In 1992, he appeared for a man facing the death sentence; it was lifted. The case was won because the condemned man's lawyers gave poor representation.

By January 1994, Mr Loflin had lobbied widely in Britain. According to some accounts, lawyers for Thompson and Venables listened politely to the American's views, then quietly got on with the task of researching possible avenues of appeal.

Others claim it was Mr Loflin's persistence and 'imaginative lawyering' which pointed the way toward - at the very least - an appeal using the expert counsel at Doughty Street Chambers, in London.

Mr Loflin has not sought publicity, and will not be paid for any involvement in the cases. Yesterday, he was refusing comment at the Durham law office he runs with his wife, Ann.

A large man of almost Perry Mason physical presence, he has made two journeys to England to pursue the quest for justice for Thompson and Venables, boys he has never met and is unlikely to meet.

Colleagues say he will be saddened but not surprised by xenophobic reactions in Britain to his scepticism about the boys' treatment in English courts and by English lawyers. His own ancestors came from the British Isles and he has deep respect for the English common law foundations on which US law rests.

Tom Loflin will have enjoyed a beer at the baseball last night, just as he enjoys British real ale. He eventually expects to be drinking a more significant toast in the cases of Thompson and Venables.

(Photograph omitted)