Liverpool: Boys of 10 charged with murder of toddler James

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The Independent Online

Two boys aged 10 were last night charged with the abduction and murder of two-year-old James Bulger. They are believed to be the second youngest defendants to face a murder charge in Britain. The pair have also been charged with attempting to abduct a second two-year-old boy. The boys, both from Walton, Liverpool, are due to appear tomorrow at South Sefton magistrates' court, Bootle, only 250 yards from the Strand Shopping Centre from where James was taken, in full view of security video cameras, nine days ago.

Two boys aged 10 were last night charged with the abduction and murder of two-year-old James Bulger. They are believed to be the second youngest defendants to face a murder charge in Britain. The pair have also been charged with attempting to abduct a second two-year-old boy. The boys, both from Walton, Liverpool, are due to appear tomorrow at South Sefton magistrates' court, Bootle, only 250 yards from the Strand Shopping Centre from where James was taken, in full view of security video cameras, nine days ago.

Two hundred police officers have been involved in the murder hunt, which began after James's mother, Denise Bulger, took her eyes off her son for a few minutes as she was shopping. His body was found, with multiple injuries, two days later on a railway embankment two and a half miles away. The attempted abduction charge is understood to relate to an incident in the same shopping centre earlier on the afternoon of James's disappearance, involving another mother shopping with her children.

The two boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were arrested last Thursday morning. Detectives have been questioning them ever since, and on Friday evening Liverpool magistrates granted permission for the interviews to continue for a further 36 hours. Police said the boys had been given full access to relatives, solicitors and social workers. Last night Merseyside police said the boys would be kept in police detention under Section 59 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, until their court appearance. Police are consulting social workers on how they should be treated.

The Bulger family issued a statement through their solicitor, Sean Sexton, after details of the charges were released. It said: 'The family are, of course, relieved at the progress that has been made but are still trying to come to terms with the situation.'

It emerged last night that the Bulger family had been struck by tragedy before. James's uncle, Philip, told a newspaper that four years ago, Mrs Bulger lost her first child at birth. The discovery of James's body led to an outpouring of grief and anger in Liverpool. Crowds at Anfield for Liverpool's game against Ipswich held a minute's silence yesterday. Prayers will be said for James in Liverpool's two cathedrals today. On Ash Wednesday, local clergy plan to follow the route he is believed to have taken from the shopping centre to the railway line, saying prayers along the way. Yesterday hundreds of bouquets of flowers and toys were still being left at the shopping centre and on a grassy bank close to where James met his death.

Ten is the lowest age at which children can be held accountable in law for their actions. The law says that those under 10 are too young to be criminally responsible. Where children are aged 10 to 14, the prosecution must prove that they were aware that they were doing wrong. The minimum age of criminal responsibility was raised to 10 after the acquittal in the 1950s of an eight-year-old charged with murdering his 17-month-old brother. The baby's crying disturbed the boy doing homework at their house on the Isle of Wight. He lost patience and is alleged to have hit him with a feeding bottle.

When the boy came before a juvenile court, prosecuting counsel said there was a strong presumption of innocence of intent between the ages of eight and 14 and the younger the child, the stronger the presumption. It would need to be very strong indeed for an eight-year-old and the prosecution felt it could not sustain an argument to rebut this presumption. He offered no evidence and the case was dismissed.

In 1748, William York, a boy of 10, was sentenced to death at Durham Assizes for the murder of a five-year-old girl. Although the court ruled that the execution should proceed to prevent the impression'that children may commit such atrocious crimes with impunity', the boy was reprieved. Britain's best-known case of a child being accused of killing is that of Mary Bell, an 11-year-old from Newcastle upon Tyne, found guilty in 1968 of the manslaughter of two small boys. She was sentenced to life imprisonment and released in 1980. The jury found that Bell had diminished responsibility at the times of the killings; otherwise they would have found her guilty of murder.