'Killers intended to take boy to police'

DETECTIVES searching for the killers of James Bulger are almost certain that he was murdered within hours of his abduction by the two boys who led him away from a Liverpool shopping centre.

Last night they issued descriptions of the boys. The older one, believed to be 13, is 5ft 1in tall, slim with short dark hair, clean looking and very pale. He has brown eyes with dark eyebrows, a long nose and long face. He was wearing a light coloured three-quarter length jacket and dark trousers.

The other boy is younger, 11 or 12, and about 4ft 9in tall. He is described as chubby with a cherubic face and a small nose. He has short dirty hair slightly to the front and left. He was wearing a black shiny zip-up blouson-style jacket with elasticated cuffs and a motif on the left breast. His trousers were dark but did not match his top. He was wearing dark-coloured shiny training shoes or boots.

After computer-enhanced pictures of the boys were shown on the BBC television programme Crimewatch UK last night, the producers reported an 'overwhelming response' to the appeal for information. Viewers suggested 43 names of possible suspects, three of whom were named by three or four people each.

Evidence that emerged earlier yesterday lent more weight to the police's belief that the boys intended to take the two-year-old to Walton police station, where officers are focusing their inquiries. Police disclosed that the last person known to have seen him alive, a middle-aged woman, became involved in a conversation with the two boys who were clutching his arm as they asked directions to the station at about 4.45pm on Friday. The mutilated body of James, from Northwood, Kirkby, was found last Sunday on railway tracks. Nearly 200 police officers, backed by a major-incident computer system, are now involved in the hunt which has provoked a flood of public responses.

From the reported sightings and video evidence, officers believe that they have a good idea of the route James and the two boys took just before his death.

After leaving the Strand centre at 3.43pm on Friday through the Marks & Spencer entrance, the three crossed a bridge on busy Stanley Road and probably turned left into Park Road, a quieter street. At 4.03 they were again captured on video by the security cameras of a building company at the junction of Hawthorne Road and Oxford Road, by which time James had a bump on his head and bruising on his face.

The three apparently walked up Oxford Road to Breeze Hill, a six-lane dual carriageway. For part of the time they would have had the electric blue railings of Hillside High School on their left and must have passed a number of the uniformed pupils who would have been going home at the time.

An elderly man walking his dog at the reservoir further up Breeze Hill spotted James with the two boys at about 4.30. At some time in the following 15 minutes they asked another man for directions to the police station.

Shortly afterwards, at the entrance to a subway on the junction of County Road and Breeze Hill, they were seen having a conversation with a woman aged about 65, 5ft 10in tall, slim, wearing a dark coat and holding a black mongrel dog on a lead. The woman has since related that conversation to the police.

Detective Superintendent Albert Kirby, who is leading the investigation, said: 'She talked to the two boys and noticed that the baby in particular, although he looked tired, had a clean appearance. They said they had found this boy down by the Strand and wanted to take him to Walton Lane police station. The woman, concerned because the junction was exceptionally busy with traffic, escorted them across the road to the entrance of St Mary's Church, Walton-on-the-Hill.'

From there James may have been taken through the church graveyard to Church Road West. Officers are examining reports that they may have walked along an alleyway running parallel to the railway tracks which ends up in front of the police station.

But for some reason they passed the station and went on to the tracks where James's body was found. Det Supt Kirby said: 'I am now convinced that the abductors are probably more likely to have caused his death.'

Jim Sharples, Chief Constable of Merseyside, yesterday defended his force from criticism over the high-profile arrest of a 12- year-old boy that led to disturbances on Tuesday evening. He said his officers had been acting in a highly charged situation and had a duty to protect the boy and his family from the crowds that gathered outside their house.

Letters, page 18

Andrew Marr, page 19

(Photographs omitted)

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