My mum planned another trip to England. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. I was a bottle ready to pop. I couldn’t wait to return to London to see people that look like me, to see the vibrant city full of lights, shops and simply full of life. London is exactly like me, so much energy, so much variety and so exciting. Geneva in the other hand is so quiet and boring compared to London. Of course, I was bragging to my classmates that I was going to London. I always liked attention and standing out from the crowd. My classmates and teachers were used to that and often allowed me to be in the spot light. I don’t know why I love being at the center of attention and loving the limelight too much to this day. Perhaps that was due to getting that so much from my dad.
Our return to England, coincided with a shocking tragedy that will take centre stage in that moment in England and for decades to come. The tragedy not only would shock the UK, but it would shock the whole world. In a way, I would feel so connected to that tragedy in more ways than one.
To start with the coincidence, my favourite film of all time, Shindler’s list, came out in February 1993. The film itself recounts the horrors and tragedies based on an eye witness during the 2nd World War.
We travelled again first with a coach to France and took the boat from France to England. Once we arrived, I thought we would stay at my mum’s friend once again. This year it was different. In fact, all was different that time and year we travelled back to London. We stayed in a hotel in Golders Green, located in north London. Somehow, my excitement died down when we arrived in Golders Green. I quickly realised London wasn’t the same that year. London had simply lost its spark. What happened? Who died? I immediately noticed how quiet London was, I could hear the wind whistling and could see almost empty streets.
Once we arrived in our hotel, I was preoccupied wondering what happened here. It is so strange that a big city like London, instead of hearing noises I could hear silence. In the hotel, I could even hear a pin drop. Despite my lack of English back then, I did notice the atmosphere and there’s no language barrier when you can sense something is seriously wrong. The trip was so tiring that we went to bed immediately and were out like a light. My mum as always would read the newspapers or books depending what she fancied.
The very next day, after breakfast, we went out probably for sightseeing. Walking on the street was so weird, yet again hardly no one was out. We obviously stood out because not only we didn’t understand what was going on and we were tourists. As we walked to get our travel pass, the newsagent was plastered with news headlines. Then I looked closer to the headlines. A grainy CCTV image of a little boy, probably a toddler holding hand with a boy older than him, further up, was another boy walking ahead of them. That image was on the cover of every newspaper. I figured, if that image was on every cover, then something bad happened to the 3 boys and because London was so quiet, I thought something bad happened in London. I couldn’t understand English, yet I sensed since our arrival that something very bad happened to silence the city. Also, it was so cold, which didn’t help London’s streets starving for people. Also, with the image which at first seemed innocent, my imagination went overdrive as I tried to understand what happened and I was playing detective.
Once we returned to our hotel, we watched the news. I was so happy to see Sir Trevor McDonald the news reader. Unfortunately, I would also find out what was happening. The grainy image was actually the abduction of James Bulger, a little toddler by 2 boys who were only 10 at the time. The abduction happened not in London but in Liverpool. At the time, it must have been the 13th of February because the search for James was still ongoing. Now, I realised, when we arrived in London, it was the day little James was abducted which explained why the nation was so silent. It must have been the shock which silenced the nation. Just like everyone else, I was hoping for James’s safe return. Sadly, the worst was yet to come. The very next day, James’s body was discovered, he was brutally killed. The investigation started and the story dominated the news, the newspapers and everyone was talking about it. There was no escaping the tragedy. During that same week, the search was still ongoing for the 2 boys seen on the CCTV with James. Finally, the police, after a tip off, went to arrest and question 2 boys called Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. Eventually, they confessed to the crime which sent shockwaves around the world. When I returned to Switzerland, I felt so sorry for the little James. I still do.
I feel so connected only because the 2 boys were my age. I was trouble and troubled like them. I would learn later how they would skip school on a regular basis and the violence was evident in both cases; Robert was living in an abusing home with an alcoholic mum and him and his brothers would fight among themselves. Jon however, was an attention seeker and would use violence to attract attention. I saw myself in them sadly because I displayed the same behaviour, but thankfully, my mother gave me so much love, care and attention which helped me to not take the wrong path like Jon and Robert did. Their friendship was not a good mix at all. In fact, their friendship would prove fatal on that day because it could have been any other child who would have been subjected of pure evil. Jon and Robert aimed to abduct a child that day and sadly it happened.
The other reason why I felt so connected to this tragic case was because when I left Switzerland, in 2001 to come and live in London, that was the exact same year Jon and Robert left prison. Once again, it was all over the news. I was thinking James’s poor parents were not only forced to relieve the tragedy again, but his killers only served 8 years for their son’s brutal and needless murder. A double blow for them. The case touched me so much and I still feel so connected to it; being in London during the same time the tragedy happened, the killers being the same age as me and coming to London the same year the killers left prison. A quick update on the case, James’s mum set up a charity in his name.
Robert Thompson has never reoffended again, however, Jon Venables did and has been in and out of prison (on child pornography cases) since 2008 and is currently in prison as of 2021.
When I came to live in London, I conducted my own research about James and I admit I have often cried. I read many articles, watch the many documentaries on the case and I have read the heartbreaking books written by James’s parents. Each time I read about James Bulger, it feels like a time machine with the power to bring me back to that February of 1993; the silent atmosphere and the freezing temperature which wrapped the whole nation like a blanket. What I also realised is how James is still in people’s mind and heart. At the time of the tragedy, James’s parents received letters from people over the world and the support James’s family still receive is amazing. What happened to James has touched millions, and according to James’s father the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson, sent flowers to James’s funeral. James was a big fan of Michael Jackson. What saddens me with the case is that James’s story, it seems, has become a property of the public as each time his killers are mentioned, and so is James’s name too. Especially concerning Jon Venables ongoing offences. The case has been used in studies (according to his father) and even a film has been made about it recently which James’s parents were furious about which is so understandable because James’s family were not consulted in any way.
In many ways, I feel connected to James because I saw myself in him too. We share so many traits. James was a lovely boy, very clever for his age at only 2 years and he was full of life. Just like me, he loved being at the centre of attention and had so much energy. I feel connected to James because when I was 2, I was wandering on my own in Madeira. I still don’t understand why I went out by myself. Luckily, I was found by a family friend who returned me to my parents. However, I do understand my experience and outcome compared to James’s is different. In her book, James’s mum wrote that in the shopping centre, the day of the tragedy, towards the end of the afternoon, James was becoming restless and was displaying so much energy. In all his pictures, frozen in time, James displays someone full of energy, someone friendly, very handsome and lovely.
I hope to visit James’s grave one day and this post is my way to pay my own tribute to him. Rest in perfect peace little James.