Monday 12 February 2018 is the 25th anniversary of a unique crime that continues to impact British life: the abduction and murder of James Bulger by two ten-year-old boys – Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Channel 4 has commissioned October Films to produce a documentary bringing together the key individuals involved in the trial for the first time since 1993 to examine whether justice was truly served.
The UK has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world. The programme examines the press, public, and political influence on the prosecution of the case and asks two core questions:
Did the criminal justice system fail the Bulger family by being too lenient on the murderers, or did it fail two young boys unable to fully understand the consequences of their actions?
The Bulger Murder: 25 Years On , directed by Matt Smith (Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad), also includes excerpts from the police interview tapes with Venables and Thompson, to reconsider one of the most shocking events of a generation, which is still in the headlines today.
The documentary interviews those personally involved to ask them whether the British criminal justice system got it right or wrong. Interviewees include Ralph Bulger, Laurence Lee (Jon Venables' solicitor), Dominic Lloyd (Robert Thompson's solicitor), Detective Sergeant Phil Roberts (who conducted the interviews with Thompson), Detective Inspector Jim Fitzsimmons, Richard Henriques, QC (barrister for the prosecution), Home Secretary at the time Lord Michael Howard, former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie, journalist Shelagh Fogarty and author Blake Morrison.
Britain is one of a small number of countries around the world in which ten year olds can be sentenced for murder and there is increasing evidence that children of that age find it difficult to comprehend the consequences of their actions. Worldwide many countries have increased their age of criminal responsibility whereas Britain has remained the same. The programme looks at how the Norwegian authorities took a different approach to a similar crime and asks why the British reaction was so markedly different.
Michelle Chappell, Commissioning Editor, Channel 4 Documentaries said: “James Bulger's murder shocked the nation and still lingers in the hearts and minds of the British public. Recent events have put the question of whether justice was served back at the forefront of national debate. By bringing together some of the key contributors to the trial and sentencing as well as those reacting to and in some cases helping shape the public sentiment, this will be a timely and thought-provoking look at how we should deal with horrific crime and the punishment of perpetrators not yet into their teens.”
Matt Robins, Creative Director at October and Executive Producer added: “The murder of James Bulger fundamentally changed the way we Britons live and continues to provoke raw emotion. We saw this film as an opportunity to ask how 25 years of hindsight have affected the perspectives of those closest to the case. Rather than retreading the details of that dark day in Liverpool, we wanted to consider what the British reaction says about us as a nation and whether we’ve changed over the intervening years.”