Child behaviour experts puzzled by killer's motive: Celia Hall reports on a death which does not fit patterns of child assault

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EXPERTS IN child behaviour are baffled by the abduction and death of James Bulger, 2.

For a toddler to be abducted and for the apparent perpetrators to be themselves so young - described as about 12 and 15 - does not fit patterns of child asssault or bullying.

Similarly, for a two-year-old to be abducted and then injured or killed by adolescents who are strangers is even more peculiar, psychologists said yesterday.

It is understood that James had not been sexually assaulted. While security videos show him walking with the youths and later struggling or being swung between them, it is not known what part, if any, they played in his death.

Kevin Epps, principal psychologist at Glenthorne Youth Treatment Centre, Birmingham, a unit for the most difficult and disturbed 13 to 17-year-olds, said: 'I am a bit suspicious of this. There needs to be some other motive or someone else involved in some way or other.'

He said that a boy might kill a younger sister and that children do abduct younger children, but usually with a sexual motive. 'If a 14-year-old abducted a seven- year-old it would usually be with a sexual purpose and the child would be known to him. A two- year-old would be really very unusual.

'You could also speculate that the youths were acting for adults who were involved is some kind of sexual activity. But in that case the children are usually targeted. . . Again this does not fit the circumstances of this little boy's abduction, and in any case he is still too young.'

Tony Black, formerly head of psychology at Broadmoor Hospital, said that children who were involved by adults in sex videos, for instance, were usually more than five years old.

'The case is very hard to understand. Children are commonly seen to be rather protective towards very small children. I find the circumstances so incomprehensible that I wonder if the boys did not think he was lost, then got tired and gave up looking for his mother, and then the boy was picked up by someone else.'

It was fairly common for children to be accosted by lonely adults with problems for a chat, Mr Black said. 'A smaller group will get some sexual gratification from this contact and an even smaller group will assault the children. These are adults who cannot make contact with other adults. But in this case it seems to be children who accosted the boy. Nothing fits.'