05/02/2013 03:19 GMT | Updated 05/02/2013 03:21 GMT

James Bulger Murder: Britain Still 'Ill-Equipped To Deal With Child Criminals' 20 Year On, Former MP Says

A former MP who represented the area where James Bulger was murdered has said nearly 20 years after the toddler's death that Britain remains ill-equipped for dealing with "exceptional" cases involving child criminals.

Peter Kilfoyle, who was Liverpool Walton MP until the last general election, said that despite widespread "soul-searching" sparked by the murder, it had not led to a more appropriate way of dealing with the "small cohort" of youngsters who commit serious crimes.

Mr Kilfoyle, 66, who founded the think-tank ExUrbe, said: "I think people would have been more prepared for an older person being held responsible for James's murder.

"The fact that the perpetrators were also young children, for so many people that blew their minds.

"They couldn't understand how this could happen.

"There was moral outrage at the idea that any child should be killed in that fashion and that was compounded by the fact that the perpetrators were also young boys.

"It led to a lot of soul searching."

james bulger

James was killed by two 10-year-olds, the youngest children to be charged with murder in the 20th century

Former Labour MP Mr Kilfoyle, 66, believes there was a "knee-jerk" reaction "to punish and for revenge", as illustrated in the scenes at South Sefton Magistrates' Court when an angry mob attacked the prison van carrying Thompson and Venables to their first court hearing.

"That kind of mob violence has no place in a civilised society", Mr Kilfoyle said.

"I still find it hard to understand how people can regard children in the same way as an adult.

"To put them in front of the full panoply of justice can be overawing and a terrifying experience.

"Critics will say they shouldn't have committed the crime that they did, but these were children at a limited stage of their intellectual development.

"What we didn't have, and I'm not sure if we have them today, are the appropriate facilities to deal with these exceptional circumstances. Admittedly, a small cohort of youngsters, who commit terrible crimes or have got horrendous problems.

jamie bulger

James Bulger was snatched from a shopping centre in Liverpool

"I don't think that we have worked out properly how we deal with these children. They are special cases and the assumption that was made - by the use of an adult court - that these are mini adults, they are not, they are children.

"A child is not a mini-adult.

"They have a completely different outlook and limited life experiences."

Venables' lawyer has recalled the "living nightmare" of representing one of James Bulger's child murderers, saying at first he could not believe the "angelic-looking" Jon Venables could possibly have carried out such a brutal and sadistic killing.

But "the walls came crashing in" soon into his client's police interviews when it became clear that Venables had been lying and that he had in fact carried out the killing with his friend Robert Thompson, also then aged 10.

jamie bulgers

Jamie Bulger's parents at a press conference following the murder of their son

Solicitor Laurence Lee represented the then 10-year-old Venables from the moment his client was arrested by police on February 18, 1993.

Describing his first meeting with Venables, Mr Lee, who now runs his own law firm in Liverpool, said: "He was like an angelic-looking eight-year-old. I thought 'what am I doing here? He couldn't be capable of anything like this'. He was so convincing in his first interview that he had been nowhere near the Strand."

Venables claimed that he had been on County Road, near Goodison Park, with Thompson but said neither of them had been at the shopping centre where the toddler went missing.

Mr Lee, 59, said: "And I believed him. He was convincing. And it was only after there was a time-out and the officers who interviewed Thompson had a briefing and came back for the second interview.

"And again I was in blissful ignorance thinking, it's the easiest money - I felt guilty, actually, because this boy had had nothing to do with anything, I thought - until having got him cosy with his little space pens and his can of Coke, they kept him nice and relaxed and they said 'look we've spoken to Robert and he says you were in The Strand'."

After a silence Venables responded: "Well, ok, we were in the Strand but we never grabbed a kid."

Mr Lee said: "He got up and he grabbed his mum and he was crying and I thought 'oh my God, what have I let myself in for here?'

"The walls came crashing in at that moment and I knew what he was like and it was... God it was like a living nightmare."

He said he was "caught up in a maelstrom of massive criminology" and it was something he could not have prepared for.

"It was the kind of case that no solicitor had ever dealt with. I was in my 30s and I had never dealt with anything like this before."