They then headed towards a canal, where several witnesses later reported seeing a child fitting the description of James being carried on the shoulders of an older boy. He was said to be in distress. Police searched the Leeds to Liverpool canal yesterday, but nothing was found.
James was snatched while out shopping with his mother, Denise, 25, and her friend, Nicola Bailey. Mrs Bulger was in a butcher's when he wandered off towards a nearby shop. The boy was away from his mother for a few minutes. Pictures from the cameras, released yesterday, then reveal James holding hands with one youth and being led away from the shopping centre.
James's father, Ralph Bulger, 26, of Northwood, Kirkby, Merseyside, told a press conference: 'James is a bubbly kid who gets on with anyone. He will chat to people and we have taught him his name and address. He is a good kid. If anyone has got him or knows where he is, please bring him back.'
Mrs Bulger said: 'I was buying meat at the butcher's. I turned round and he had gone. If you have got my baby, just bring him back.'
Mr Bulger added: 'It could happen to anyone. She just turned away and the next minute he was gone.'
The photographs shown at the news conference were taken at three-minute intervals. The first showed a distressed Mrs Bulger looking for James. The next featured James with the youths and in the third he was holding hands with one of them. The final picture shows James and the youths leaving the centre by the Marks & Spencer exit and turning right towards the canal and Liverpool.
The hunt for James was intensified yesterday after searches throughout Friday showed no trace of him.
More than 100 police officers were involved last night in the search, which was widened to include all stretches of open water close to the shopping centre. CID officers were also following up information received from the public. Earlier, house-to-house inquiries were made and the force helicopter was used in the search.
Superintendent Mike Hogarth said: 'We are obviously very concerned for the safety of James.' A police spokeswomen added: 'Our fears for him are growing hour by hour.'
James is 2ft 6ins tall, with short blond hair and blue eyes, and was wearing a blue anorak, with a hood that is mustard-coloured on the inside, silver tracksuit bottoms and white trainers.
The police are appealing for witnesses. Their emergency number is 051-777 2655.
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