IN ROOMS three streets apart, James Bulger's parents yesterday made their responses to the ruling that their son's killers did not receive a fair trial.
The breakdown of their marriage was one of the shattering consequences of the mayhem which followed this dark tragedy. Private sorrows - "the effect on marriage, family and health" - had borne no mention in the report by the European court, noted Sean Sexton, the solicitor for James's mother Denise, now Denise Fergus.
She spent yesterday morning watching her son Stuart, who was six last week, performing at a nativity play. It was a devastating day for her, said Mr Sexton. "She was fearing the worst. She always thought this might happen and that they were trying to chip away at the minimum sentence."
Mrs Fergus' anger was thinly veiled in her written statement, issued at Mr Sexton's offices. "The killers have slick lawyers and always get kid glove treatment," it stated. "Even though they are evil I have to accept the killers will be released one day." James, she said, had been "overlooked".
Ralph Bulger, James's father, has always taken a lower profile. Shaken more by the new furore than by the ruling which precipitated it, he managed only five hesitant words - "I'm pleased with the decision" - at the office's of his own solicitor, Robin Makin.
Later, speaking for him, Mr Makin said the two most important judgments - that the boys were still held criminally responsible for the death and were punishable for it - had been upheld. "We've got what we wanted," he said. It was a rare positive note in a day of disbelief here.
Mrs Fergus's brother, Ray Matthews, also seemed momentarily overwhelmed as he argued against the weight of Strasbourg's judiciary.
"They (Thompson and Venables) have these lawyers who are doing their utmost to get these killers out early," he said. "It just keeps going on and on. There seems no end to it. We want it all to stop."
The costs awarded to the boys seemed to smart the most. "It says something about how victims are viewed when the killers get their costs paid while the family must depend on solicitors who work on a pro bono basis," said Mr Sexton.
Merseyside shared his indignity. A BBC Radio Merseyside morning phone- in, at which retired chief inspector Albert Kirby fielded questions, was so engulfed that he never made it to a scheduled press conference. A caller told him: "There was nothing like this with Mary Bell [convicted at the age of 11 of killing two children]. She just did her time, then disappeared."
All the old ghosts which the city had never quite exorcised, surfaced again. "She should never have let that child out of her sight that day," said another caller cruelly.
At the Strand shopping centre in Bootle, where James was abducted, they say that everyone still stops when the Tannoy system announces a child is missing. "It sends a chill up your back," said Eleanor Newman, a grandmother of two as she pushed three-month-old Emma past the butcher's shop captured by the CCTV cameras which caught Venables and Thompson leading James away.
"All that money they're getting as well. They should never be let out, they'll never be safe anyway," she said.
Mrs Newman happily pays pounds 1.60 an hour to leave five-year-old granddaughter Rebecca in the care of a creche set up in the wake of James's murder. "If they ever wander off they won't be safe," she said.
Locals were musing over rumours that James Bulger's killers may now be free within two years.
"Unfair trial? James was given an unfair dragging to that railway line," said Keith Truesdale, clutching his daughter Lauren, aged 3.
Wendy Dugdale's eldest children were young teenagers at the time of the murder.
"I was always in fear of turning around in case they'd gone," she said.
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