When I gave birth to my baby boy, I was full of hopes and dreams for him. But the one thing I didn’t ever imagine was burying my son’s tiny body after his murder. No parent wants to outlive their child or say goodbye – it’s impossible to imagine – but my final hours and minutes with my beautiful James will be etched on my mind until my dying day.
Getting my purse out to buy two pork chops for tea was the last thing I did before my world imploded forever. I went into the butcher’s holding my little boy’s hand, making one final stop before heading home, and I left without James’s hand in mine. In truth, a lot of the detail is lost for me – I either can’t remember because I have blanked it out or else the facts were kept from me for my own sake. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t shower, I didn’t talk – it was like I was floating. Hours bled into each other, day and night were the same to me.
We were eventually told that the police had arrested two 10-year-old boys and charged them with James’s abduction and murder and, as we were awaiting the trial, I found out that I was pregnant with Michael. The case went to court in December 1993, and Thompson and Venables were given a minimum of eight years. The strain on my marriage was immense and, after Ralph and I divorced, I eventually I met my wonderful husband, Stuart. With him, I had Thomas and Leon, and life truly became worth living again.
I spent years replaying my last moments with James and those thoughts were particularly intense once his killers were let out.
But when Thompson and Venables were eventually released, I was terrified. I became fixated on the fact that, despite the hollow assurances from the government, they could be living down the road and who would know? I felt invaded, powerless and ever more anxious about the kids. I spent years replaying my last moments with James and those thoughts were particularly intense once his killers were let out. I went through a phase where I thought about it all the time and I saw danger everywhere. Even though my boys are older, I don’t sleep a wink until everyone is home and I expect texts to let me know how far away they are. If they are even a few minutes late, I go into a blind panic. I truly don’t think the chilly fear I felt when I realised James wasn’t by my side will ever fully leave me.
I have worked so hard over the years not to exist in a world of pain. I have had to mentally box away so much that I was terrified to dust it all off and delve back into it for the book. But, actually, it has made me feel so close to James. As time has gone on, I have stopped my mind from imagining what James would be like as he played with his brothers. I try and concentrate on the present. Right from when the boys were young I would include James in the conversation. Often, when we were sitting round the dinner table and one of the boys would do or say something, I would say, ‘James used to do that,’ and then tell them a little story about him to cement the point. It helped to introduce James to them at a young age and in a natural way.
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Stuart and I also set up the James Bulger Memorial Trust, known as For James. The idea was a charity that would benefit and support young people who are disadvantaged in some way – kids who have been damaged either by bereavement, bullying, hatred or having been a victim of crime. We fundraise all year round and the money goes towards the upkeep of the accommodation and the travel expenses we donate to those families. The charity is a huge part of my life, and it is so wonderful to finally see something positive coming from years of pain and misery.
I can’t live in a world of ifs, buts and if onlys – if only I hadn’t gone shopping that day, if only we hadn’t stopped at the butcher’s, what if we had been half an hour later? Why didn’t I take his buggy? Thinking like that is the path to madness, as is searching for answers about why this had to happen to us – only Venables and Thompson know why they did what they did and I realised I had to stop asking why a long time ago because the answers aren’t ever coming. There is no forgiveness in my heart for my son’s killers.
Time and my husband and children have given me a sense of happiness and peace I could never have imagined after the day James left my side. But I think the time has come, now 25 years after my son’s murder and in light of the recent offence by Venables, that there is a renewed national conversation around the appropriate length of sentencing for under-age criminals. We have also started a petition to ensure the probation service is compelled to alert victim’s families immediately after any offence. I will continue to do all I can for James until there is no breath left in my body – he will always be my son and I will protect him and his memory forever. The fight continues, it just changes as the years go on.
I Let Him Go by Denise Fergus (Blink Publishing) is out on 25th January. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the James Bulger Memorial Trust, supporting families of victims of crime.
Text JBMT00 £2/£5/£10/£20 to 70070 to donate your chosen amount. 100% of your donation goes directly to the charity. You will be charged your standard network rate plus your donation.
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