Fact Check

Murder of Jamie Bulger

An outdated petition decries the true and horrific death of Jamie Bulger at the hands of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

Published Jul 17, 2001

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 14:  Denise Fergus, the mother of murdered two-year-old James Bulger,  attends a press conference to launch an appeal to raise funds for bullied children on March 14, 2008 in Liverpool, England. The appeal is in memory of her son James, killed 15 years ago by 10 year olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, Bulger would have been celebrating his 18th birthday this Sunday. The Red Balloon learner Centre bearing James Bulger's name will be a sanctuary for bullied children.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Image Via Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Two British teens who killed a child when they were ten years old were granted anonymity for life by the courts and released from custody in June 2001.

On 12 February 1993 two-year-old James Bulger was brutally murdered by Jonathan (Jon) Venables (10) and Robert (Bobbie) Thompson (10) in Liverpool, England.


On February 12, 1993 a small boy who was to turn three in March was taken from a shopping mall in Liverpool by two 10 year old boys. Jamie Bolger walked away from his mother for only a second and Jon Venables took his hand and led him out of the mall with his friend Robert Thompson. They took Jamie on a walk for over 2 and a half miles, along the way stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his mommy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him and threw stones at him and rubbed paint in his eyes and pushed batteries up his anus. They then left his beaten small body on the tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created.

These two boys, even being boys, understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident.

This week Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities.

We cannot let this happen. They will also leave early this year only serving just over half of their sentence. One paper even stated that Robert may go on to University.

They are getting away with their crime. They need to pay, and we have to do something to make them pay for their horrific crime. They took Jamie's life violently away, and in return they get a new life.

Please add your name and location to the list and forward to friends and family. Please copy this email instead of forwarding so we do not get > at the beginning of sentances.

If you are the 200th person to sign please forward this email to st.ser.cs@gtnet.gov.uk attentioning it to Lady Justice Butler-Sloss. Then start the list over again and sent to your friends and family.

The Love-Bug virus took less that 72 hours to reach the world. I hope this does too.

We need to protect our family and friends from creatures like Robert and Jon. One day they may be living next to your and your small children without your knowledge.

If Robert and Jon could be so evil at 10, imagine what they could do as adults?

With only one exception (the batteries in the victim's anus — they went into his mouth) the details of the crime as outlined in the e-mail are accurate. The boy was taken from a shopping mall while there with his mother. (A video surveillance camera captured footage of the two killers leading James away.) The child was brutalized as he was forced to walk along with the boys. (Witnesses later reported seeing the boys dragging, pushing, and carrying the weeping-two-year old during a disjointed journey through the streets of Liverpool.) And they did kill him in the manner described, albeit more brutally than even the text of the e-petition lets on.

Two days after the murder, James' remains were found on a lonely stretch of railroad track. He was naked from the waist down — his shoes, socks, trousers, and underpants had been taken off. His penis had been manipulated by his abductors, but he had not been anally penetrated (by batteries or anything else). He'd been beaten to death with rocks, bricks, and an iron bar. As the boys hammered at him, they splattered him with model airplane paint stolen days earlier. Once he was dead, his killers laid him on the tracks, and his body was cut in two by a passing train. (The killers hoped to hide their crime by having it mistaken for an accidental death of a young child who'd foolishly played on the tracks.)

Jamie Bulger

Venables and Thompson were taken into custody a few days later. Each sought to blame the other for the killing, but both eventually confessed. They were tried, found guilty of murder, sentenced, and placed in separate detention homes. The killers have not seen each other since the trial.

All this is true. And horrifying. Yet even so, there's no point in signing the petition or urging others to. Beyond all the usual problems with e-petitions, one issue specific to this case rules against the utility of such a plan: the situation being decried is already a done deal. On 8 January 2001, the High Court of England guaranteed both Venables and Thompson lifelong anonymity plus an unprecedented open-ended injunction barring any publicity about them. Each of these young men were released in June 2001 when they were 18.

The e-mail states that two killers "will also leave early this year only serving just over half of their sentence." That statement is false. Although there is no theoretical maximum length of sentence imposed, a minimum sentence of 8 years had been set. And that 8-year minimum was satisfied.

The boys were detained "at Her Majesty's pleasure" (without a maximum fixed term). Her Majesty's Pleasure (HMP) sentences are imposed only in cases of murder and manslaughter committed by children under 18. In these cases, the judge sets a tariff (minimum term, defined as the period required for retribution and deterrence). Once the tariff has been satisfied, the prisoner is assessed on the basis of the likely risk he will pose to the outside community. Therefore, a killer sentenced to such a term is eligible for release once the tariff has been served, provided he does not impress the court as posing a danger to society.

The judge at Venables' and Thompson's November 1993 trial set an 8-year tariff. In early 1994, Lord Taylor, then Lord Chief Justice, recommended increasing this minimum to 10 years. Michael Howard, Home Secretary, imposed a 15-year sentence on Venables and Thompson in July 1994, but his actions were ruled unlawful by the High Court, and the Court of Appeals in 1996, and struck down. Lord Woolf, the current Lord Chief Justice, ruled in 2000 that the killers' tariff was 8 years, a term that was reached on 21 February 2001.

Venables' and Thompson's sentences were thus 8 years each, and they have been served. Had the sentences unlawfully imposed by Michael Howard been upheld, then the e-petition's claim about the killers' only having served "half their sentences" would be relevant.

The anonymity guarantee and publication ban were set in place by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court's Family Division. She was convinced the pair would be genuinely at risk if their identities and locations were disclosed, hence her ruling. "Although the crime of these two young men was especially heinous, they have the right of all citizens to the protection of the law." She said people other than James Bulger's family "continue to feel such hatred and revulsion at the shocking crime and a desire for revenge that some at least of them might well engage in vigilante or revenge attacks." She may well have been right, especially in light of threats received.

Dame Butler-Sloss banned the media from publishing any information leading to the identification or disclosure of whereabouts of Venables or Thompson, including photographs and descriptions of their appearance. She also banned, for 12 months, publication of information about their eight-year stay in local authority secure units. Even after that, confidential information relating to their treatment and therapy cannot be published.

The judge admitted she was aware the injunctions she imposed might not be fully effective outside England and Wales. She banned the domestic media from giving wider circulation to material from the Internet or media elsewhere if it was likely to breach the injunction.

Was it right for Venables and Thompson be protected from the public? Some said yes, that otherwise they'd have been torn limb from limb (and that would render society no better than those it would prosecute for such crimes), or that children (which the defendants were at the time of the Bulger murder) should not be held accountable for a crime — even a heinous one — in the same manner that we hold adults. Others said no, that the public had a right to know where potentially dangerous felons are, and others on that side of the fence laid claim to there being some crimes which cannot fully be expiated by time served.

Jon Venables' reprieve from incarceration proved to be temporary when he violated the terms of his release by downloading and distributing indecent images of children and was returned to jail in March 2010. In July 2013 the U.K. parole board confirmed that Venables had been granted parole for a second time, although that body declined to provide details about when he would be released.

In June 2006 the following related item began circulating:

Hello friends

I am just so angry, frustrated and really upset at what has happened at the Livingston Shopping Centre that I needed to let you all know the "truth" behind the mongrel murderer.

About 3 yrs ago when I was working at the prison we found out that one of the boys (at the time aged about 12) that abducted James Bulger from a shopping centre in the U.K., then brutally raped and murdered him, had reached the age of 18 and had been sent out to Australia with a new identity for his family, etc. Long story short is that he was given the name of Dante Arthurs, his grandfather's name is Arthur Dante, and his family moved into a house in Canning Vale. When the prison staff got wind of this it was all supposed to be kept hushed up, it was some sort of prisoner exchange deal the Aust Govt set up. Soon after he got here he assaulted a 12 yrd old girl in a park in Canning Vale and consequently came to Hakea prison but for only about 6 weeks as they couldn't get enough evidence on him and the incident was brushed under the mat.

His parents used to visit him and their photos were on the computers at work and I clearly recall seeing his mum at the Livingston shops one day. I even had his address and because I've got friends and family in the area, I felt I had a right to tell them, stuff the prisons!! I had even driven past his house in Lakeview Rise estate in Canning Vale!

Anyway when this happened yesterday I said to Ron, it'd be interesting to see if it's that Dante Arthurs guy from the U.K. and sure enough today we find out that it is him. I am, along with a lot of others, absolutely furious that the mongrel arsehole was allowed to come here via the Govt in the first place and that he was allowed to appear to live a normal life!!

Why haven't the police done something about this - he should not be allowed to breathe air, he is the scum of the earth. And tonight he would be sitting back in a comfortable cell in prison, having just had a reasonable hot dinner and be watching TV!

That innocent little girl and her poor family will never ever be the same again - all because the piss weak Justice System and Govt allowed him to live in our country! There is a register for paedophiles so that the community are allowed to know where they're living and yet this piece of shit can live on our back door step with a new identity. People winge about illegal immigrants, what about this?

It will be interesting to see what unfolds over the next few days, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's whisked out of the country in the same manner he was bought here, then again knowing our pathetic laws, we'll probably keep him here in our justice system, costing tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed and entertain him PLUS the do-gooders will believe in their minds that they can rehabilitate him! I was just going to type "sorry " but I'm not at all sorry for alerting my friends to something that should be publicly known.

Stay safe, talk soon.

This message refers to the rape and murder of 8-year-old Sofia Rodrigez-Urrutia-Shu in a suburban shopping center restroom in Canning Vale, Australia, on 26 June 2006. A 21-year-old man named Dante Wyndham Arthurs was arrested and charged in connection with that case, and the message reproduced above claims Arthurs was also one of Jamie Bulger's killers, renamed and relocated to Australia after having served out his sentence as a juvenile in England (even though both of the principals in the Bulger murder were then at least 23 years old). The British High Commission and Australian police have denied any link between the Sofia Rodrigez-Urrutia-Shu and Jamie Bulger killings:

The British High Commission has ruled out claims that a man charged over the rape and murder of a Perth schoolgirl was one of two notorious English child killers.

Perth police also denied that Dante Wyndham Arthurs, 21, of the Perth suburb of Canning Vale, was one of the killers of British boy James Bulger.

Clive Hunton, of the British High Commission in Canberra, said there was "no connection between the man arrested in Western Australia and the individuals involved in the James Bulger case." Arthurs was remanded in custody after appearing in Perth Magistrates Court charged with wilful murder, sexual penetration of a child and deprivation of liberty. He was charged following the discovery of the body of Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu on the floor of a shopping centre toilet.

The fact that Dante Arthurs was born in Australia (and was not an English immigrant using an assumed identity) has been confirmed by both his birth notice and the doctor who delivered him. Also, his fingerprints do not match up with those of Jonathan (Jon) Venables or Robert (Bobbie) Thompson, the murderers of James Bulger.

The e-mailed rumor quoted above was presented as if it were written by a prison officer. According to the West Australian, that message is being investigated by Australian authorities:

The Department of Corrective Services has confirmed that an investigation was under way into an email claiming to be from a prison officer which was sent to thousands of people across Australia. 'The email appears to have come from outside the department,' a spokeswoman said.

Nonetheless, rumors persisted that Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were relocated to Australia, and in May 2008 Australian MP Liz Cunningham raised the issue of investigating whether the pair had been accepted by Queensland authorities.

In March 2010, the BBC reported that Jon Venables (then age 27) was back in prison for after having breached the terms of his release.

Image caption: Denise Fergus, the mother of murdered two-year-old James Bulger, attends a press conference to launch an appeal to raise funds for bullied children on March 14, 2008 in Liverpool, England. The Red Balloon learner Centre bearing James Bulger's name will be a sanctuary for bullied children.


Adshead, Gary and Sean Cowan.   "Birth Doctor Scoffs at Arthurs Rumours."     The West Australian.   30 June 2006.

Burrell, Ian.   "Bulger Killers Are Granted Right to a Life of Anonymity."     The [London] Independent.   9 January 2001   (p. 1).

Dyer, Clare.   "Bulger Killers Close to Release."     Manchester Guardian Weekly.   8 November 2000   (p. 7).

Gartrell, Adam.   "Bulger Link to Killing Denied."     The Advertiser.   29 June 2006.

Giles, Darrell.   "Robert Thompson and Jon Venables Mystery."     The [Queensland] Courier-Mail.   4 May 2008.

Lowrie, Margaret.   "Two Boys Found Guilty in Bulger Murder Trial."     CNN.   24 November 1993   (News; International; 12:24 pm ET).

Rice, Robert.   "Home Secretary 'Acted Unfairly.'"     [London] Financial Times.   31 July 1996   (UK News Digest; p. 7).

Seamark, Michael.   "How Can the Law Give Secret New Lives to My Son's Killers?"     [London] Daily Mail.   9 January 2001   (p. 1).

Sereny, Gitta.   "Re-Examining the Evidence."     The [London] Independent.   6 February 1994   (Sunday Review; p. 4).

Sereny, Gitta.   "Approaching the Truth."     The [London] Independent.   13 February 1994   (Sunday Review; p. 5).

Tibbetts, Graham.   "Evil Child Killers Set for New Identities."     The Mirror.   22 January 2001   (p. 5).

Associated Press.   "Notorious U.K. Child Killer Jon Venables to Be Paroled Again."     CBSNews.com.   5 July 2013.

BBC News.   "James Bulger Murderer Jon Venables Returned to Prison."     2 March 2010.

news.com.au.   "'Sombre' School Mourns Murdered Girl."     28 June 2006.