JAMES BULGER's murderers were locked away last night. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were 10-year-old Liverpool schoolboys on 12 February when they abducted James, aged two, and battered him to death on a railway line.
They were sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure, and walked down the steps from the dock at Preston Crown Court at 5.57pm last night.
Mr Justice Morland had told them: 'You will be securely detained for very, very many years until the Home Secretary is satisfied that you have matured and are fully rehabilitated and no longer a danger to others.'
The jury of three women and nine men had taken five and a half hours to convict the boys, now aged 11. The jury could not reach a verdict on the attempted abduction by Thompson and Venables of another child. The judge ruled the charge should lie on the file; both boys had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
After they disappeared into custody, the judge allowed their identities to be revealed. Their names were already painfully familiar to the Bulger family, 12 of whom were in court yesterday, including the toddler's pregnant mother, Denise, and his father, Ralph. 'How do you feel now, you little bastards?' James's uncle, Ray Matthews, shouted as they went down.
The verdicts on a killing the judge described as 'an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity' had been heard in a silent courtroom.
Jon Venables - the defendant known until yesterday as Child B - sobbed; his mother, Susan, composed but gaunt, moved for the first time in the trial to comfort her son through the brass rail of the dock. His father, Neil, wept. So, in the absence of his mother, did Robert Thompson (Child A).
He had shown little emotion during the 13 days the prosecution had taken to detail James Bulger's journey to his death after he was stolen from his mother's side at a Bootle shopping centre.
James was dragged, often in tears, through the streets, on to a covered reservoir, and finally to the railway line at Walton, Liverpool, two and a half miles from the precinct. There Thompson and Venables inflicted 42 injuries. Among the 22 wounds on his face and head were those that caused his death. The killers struck more than 30 blows with bricks and an iron bar. They sexually abused James's body, removing his trousers and underpants.
'Your conduct was both cunning and very wicked,' the judge said.
Police, acting on information from a relative of Venables, arrested them on 18 February. They were held at separate police stations and interviewed.
Thompson, interrogated nine times, denied throughout that he was a murderer. Venables, increasingly distressed, gradually admitted in 11 interviews that he had killed James, but insisted Thompson had been the main culprit.
Meanwhile, witnesses were coming forward, their memory of sightings of James with his captors stirred by video images of the abduction.
It was hard to comprehend how two mentally normal boys of average intelligence had battered a child to death without mercy, the judge said. He had read reports on Thompson and Venables by two child psychiatrists. 'I suspect that exposure to violent video films may, in part, be an explanation,' he said.
Interviews with the boys had been conducted by 'skilful and humane' police officers, the judge said. He hoped Mrs Bulger - who was in court for the first time yesterday - would find 'peace and happiness' from the birth of the child she is expecting.
The Bulgers' lawyer said last night that their nightmare would never end. Sean Sexton said Mrs Bulger was anxious to have the opportunity to see the two boys, if not to hear the evidence.
It was difficult for the couple to express their emotions without appearing vindictive, which was not in their nature.
'The new baby will never replace James but will give them something to live and work for and build a new life on,' Mr Sexton said.
Detectives who interviewed the boys called them evil freaks of nature, who had killed for a 'buzz'. They had a fixation about causing tragedy or disaster.
The solicitor for Jon Venables said the boy wept after the verdicts and said: 'Would you please tell them I am sorry.'
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