Bulger case officer attacks ITV 'Tonight' show

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The Independent Online

The senior police officer who brought James Bulger's killers to justice yesterday accused Tonight, the current affairs programme with Trevor McDonald, of forcing the child's mother into making aggressive remarks in an interview.

Retired Detective Superintendent Albert Kirby said the programme had badgered Denise Fergus, James's mother, into saying things she had not intended.

"She was forced to say things she had not said to me in private,'' he said. "I was also amazed at the aggressive nature of the researchers working on the programme who called my home." Mr Kirby, who interviewed Mrs Fergus, a personal friend, for a BBC2 programme on the murder which he presented a week before Tonight was screened, was speaking on crime reporting at the annual Radio Academy Festival in Manchester.

He said: "There was a constant badgering from journalists who thought I should make myself available for the programme even though I was out of the country at the time. It was definitely a mistake for Denise to have given the interview because she was forced into making aggressive statements.''

During the interview, broadcast on ITV at 10.20pm on 28 June, Mrs Fergus said of James's killers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, now 18 and awaiting parole: "Right now, I think they are still dangerous and as the saying goes, once a murderer always a murderer.'' Later she added: "I mean I'm not going to hunt them down, try and kill them, but if it happens then I can't stop it.'' Her comments may also be interpreted as relatively moderate, since she told would-be vigilantes, via the intereviewer, Fiona Foster: "Just don't kill them." This was seen as a partial withdrawal of her earlier stated view that "no matter where [the killers] go someone out there is someone waiting".

Last night, Granada issued a firm rebuttal of Mr Kirby's comments. David Mannion, editor of Tonight, denied Mrs Fergus was "pressurised", or that she was "forced" to say things she did not want to say. He denied Tonight researchers had visited Mr Kirby's home and suggested he may have been "confused", and "blaming us for the actions of others [journalists]".The programme's makers said Mrs Fergus willingly co-operated with them. They said the interviewing was sympathetic and not a pursuit of one line of debate. They have had no complaint from Mrs Fergus.

Mr Kirby praised the co-operation he had from the media during the 1993 Bulger murder investigation but said the Tonight programme represented another face of journalism. The retired officer spent 34 years covering serious crime investigation with the national crime squad and Merseyside police. His tasks included a review of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation.

Also speaking at the radio festival were Marie McCourt, whose daughter was murdered in 1998, and John Suffield, whose eldest son was murdered during a robbery in March 1981. Both expressed their concern at the media's coverage of murder cases and the subsequent grief caused to victim's families.