One moment he had been playing happily at Denise Bulger's side. The next, as she queued to pay in a butcher's shop in a crowded precinct, he had vanished, the jury at Preston Crown Court was told.
In a statement given just hours after his disappearance - when she did not know that her son's battered body lay on a railway track more than two miles away - Mrs Bulger described her panic when she realised he was missing.
The jury viewed the blurred security camera video images which the Crown says show two 10-year- old boys luring James from the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, near Liverpool, to his death. The boys, now aged 11, deny the abduction and murder of James and the attempted abduction of another two-year-old boy from the shopping centre, on 12 February.
Mrs Bulger, 25, who is pregnant, and her husband Ralph, 26, from Kirkby, Merseyside, were not in court yesterday, the third day of the trial, as Henry Globe, for the prosecution, read from her statement.
She told of her bubbly son's mischievous behaviour on a shopping trip to the centre with her, her sister-in-law Nicola Bailey, and her three-year-old niece. Mrs Bulger had taken James on the trip because he liked car rides. 'James liked anything to do with trains, planes, police cars, taxis - anything that moves really,' she said.
After a see-saw ride, James had 'pinched' and eaten Smarties in a supermarket, tried to run up an escalator and repeatedly broke free from his mother. In another shop he laughed as a baby suit was accidentally dropped on his head by an assistant, and began throwing suits around the shop. But his carefree afternoon turned into a nightmare for his mother when she glanced around in the butcher's shop and noticed that he was gone.
She said: 'I just turned round and looked for James and he wasn't in the shop. He had been at my side while I was being served but when I looked round he was gone . . . I panicked. I ran to the security office but couldn't see him. I went into Superdrug but couldn't find James. I started asking people if they had seen him. Nobody had.'
In another statement, Nicola Bailey said James had run off from his mother several times during the afternoon. He had been told off and had his legs smacked. 'Because James had been misbehaving Denise got her money out so she could pay quickly for her sausages and got hold of James who was standing outside the butcher's.
'I went in. I noticed James was directly outside. I noticed he was picking up and throwing about a lighted cigarette. Denise got served and started to walk out. As I was paying Denise came back in panicking and asked where James was. I said he was just outside. I went out but he had gone missing.'
Anthony Flaherty, a sales manager, said he saw a boy, described as scruffy with a chubby face, leaving the Toymaster shop apparently hiding a small tin of modelling paint in his hand.
Later, two witnesses told the court how, at around the time James disappeared, two boys were seen to drop a similar tin to the ground outside the butcher's shop.
The jurors were shown pictures of James's body, which was cut in two by a railway train, stained with paint as well as with his own blood.
Another witness, Angela Higgins, 29, told how she was standing looking in a shop window when her four-year-old son wandered off.
Mrs Higgins said: 'I could hear him talking in the background saying 'what are you doing'. They were messing with the door. My son walked round to them. One was bending down speaking to him.'
Her eldest son, aged seven, who was very protective of his brother, started panicking and asked her younger son what he was doing, she said. 'One had his head down and the other held my gaze with eye contact more than normal until my son came back to where I was standing. One mumbled something to the other and they walked off.'
On Tuesday, the mother of the two-year-old boy said to be the target of the attempted abduction, known in court as Mrs Z, told how two boys had beckoned to her son in the precinct only a few hours before James's disappearance.
Another witness, Janet Naylor, told the court she had been outside the butcher's shop and saw two young lads 'pushing one another and sort of messing around'. A woman came into the shop and told another one, who had a little girl with her: 'I can't see him outside.'
Mrs Naylor said it was clear something very wrong had happened and one of the women told a shop assistant that her little boy had gone missing outside. She heard later on the news that James Bulger had disappeared, and at first it had no impact. But she heard a news report the following week and remembered the incident with the boys near the shop.
The case continues today.
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