James Bulger 20 years on: Timeline of a murder that shocked the nation

Here is a timeline of events following the extraordinary crime that shocked the nation.

It has been 20 years since the murder of James Bulger and the conviction of his schoolboy killers Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

Here is a timeline of events from the extraordinary crime which shocked the nation.


February 12: Two-year-old James Bulger is snatched during a shopping trip to the Strand shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside.

February 13: Parents Denise and Ralph Bulger make an emotional appeal for the safe return of their son, while detectives release stills from the shopping centre's CCTV cameras. The haunting images, showing James being led away by the hand, become symbolic of the crime.

February 14: The toddler's battered body is found by children playing on a freight railway line 200 yards from Walton Lane police station, Liverpool, more than two miles from the Strand.

February 18: Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10-year-olds, are arrested in connection with the murder of James and later charged. They are the youngest people to be charged with murder in the 20th century.

February 22: There are violent scenes outside South Sefton Magistrates' Court in Bootle when the two primary school pupils, then known as Child A and Child B, make their first appearance.

March 1: James Bulger is buried.

November 24: Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, now both aged 11, are convicted of James's murder following a 17-day trial at Preston Crown Court. They are ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, the normal substitute sentence for life imprisonment when the offender is a juvenile.


June: Home Secretary Michael Howard is handed a petition from James's family, signed by 278,300 people who believe the schoolboy killers should never be released.

July: The eight-year sentence tariff set by the trial judge, which has already been increased to 10 years by Lord Chief Justice Lord Taylor of Gosforth, is increased again to 15 years by Home Secretary Michael Howard.

November: News of the Bulgers' troubled marriage hits the headlines and they part 17 months later. Both later settle with new partners.


June: The Law Lords rule by a majority that Mr Howard acted illegally in raising the boys' tariff.


March: The European Commission on Human Rights finds that Thompson and Venables were denied a fair trial and fair sentencing by an impartial and independent tribunal.

November: Chief Inspector of Prisons David Ramsbotham prompts an outcry by saying Thompson and Venables should be released soon after their 18th birthdays. He later apologises to Home Secretary Jack Straw.

December: The European Court of Human Rights echoes the Commission's conclusion, saying the schoolboys did not receive a fair trial.

[Related: Venables lawyer recalls "nightmare"]


March: Home Secretary Jack Straw says he will not set a date for Thompson and Venables' release.

October: Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf reinstates the trial judge's original tariff, paving the way for their release.


January: James Bulger's killers win an unprecedented court order from High Court judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss which grants them anonymity for the rest of their lives.

June: Thompson and Venables are freed under new identities.


November: It emerges that James's mother, now known as Denise Fergus, tracked down Robert Thompson but was "paralysed with hatred" and could not confront him.


April: It is revealed that the Government has spent £13,000 preventing overseas magazines revealing the killers' new identities.

June: A computer game is withdrawn because it appears to contain images based on the CCTV stills of James being led away from the Strand.

[Related:  Mother's plea over Bulger killer]


March 16: Eighteen red balloons are released during a private ceremony at Kirkdale Cemetery to mark what would have been James Bulger's 18th birthday.

September: Venables is arrested on suspicion of affray after he and another man become involved in a drunken street fight. He is given a formal warning by the Probation Service about breaching the good behaviour expected of him as a condition of his licence.

Later the same year he is cautioned for possession of cocaine after he was found with a small amount of the class A drug, which was said to be for personal use.
The public remains unaware of both offences until a 2010 child pornography case.


March 2: Venables is returned to prison after breaching the terms of his release, the Ministry of Justice says. It kick-starts frenzied media speculation over the nature of the alleged breach.

April 16: Prosecutors are handed a police file covering the latest allegations.

June 21: A judge at the Old Bailey lifts media restrictions, allowing it to be reported that Venables has been charged with downloading and distributing child pornography.

July 23: Venables pleads guilty to the charges. He is sentenced to two years in prison. James Bulger's mother Denise Fergus attacks the length of sentence as "simply not enough".