The James Bulger murder case was one of the abiding tabloid obsessions of the 1990s. When his young killers were released in 2001, after a maelstrom of debate including an intervention to prolong their sentence by the then Home Secretary Michael Howard, certain sections of the press sought to egg on vigilante mobs with a vigour usually reserved for paedophiles. The horror was at innocence corrupted, and the impulse was to dehumanise these deeply disturbed youngsters. Jon Thompson and Robert Venables were no longer children but ‘savages’, ‘monsters’, modern witches.
This impression was enhanced by their anonymity. Thompson and Venables were granted a lifetime of immunity from ‘exposure’. They grew into adults away from the public gaze; they are now, it is possible, leading relatively normal lives. And it