James Bulger’s mum ‘disgusted’ at murder film

Chilling: Venables and Thompson had tried to abduct another young boy earlier the same day.

The 1993 murder of James Bulger by two 10-year-old boys, which sent shockwaves through British society, is the subject of an Oscar-nominated film. Bulger’s family say it should not have been made.

On February 12, 1993, Denise Bulger was shopping in Merseyside with her two-year-old son James Bulger. While she was distracted, two boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, took the toddler by the hand and led him out of the shopping centre. The three walked over two miles to a train line, where the boys brutally tortured and killed James.

Venables and Thompson were just 10 years old.

Now, the crime has been made into a film. Detainment, a 30-minute short directed by Vincent Lambe, recreates police interviews with Venables and Thompson using real transcripts. On Tuesday, it was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Live Action Short category, despite 900,000 people signing a petition for it to be ignored.

“If we don’t understand the cause of it, it’s likely that something similar will happen again in the future,” argues Lambe, when asked why he made the film.

But James’s mother does not accept his explanation.

“I cannot express how disgusted and upset I am.” She has attacked Lambe for not asking permission to make the film and accused him of trying to make money from her son’s death.

Detainment comes during a “true crime” craze. Series like Making a Murderer and the podcast Serial, which seek to uncover new information on closed murder cases, have been streamed by hundreds of millions of people.

But the shows have been accused of exploiting victims’ suffering.


Lambe claims we should try to understand Venables and Thompson rather than dismissing them as monsters. Is he right? Can such a hideous crime ever be understood? Many think his comment was an excuse to exploit a child’s suffering for public entertainment.

In some cases, true crime stories have uncovered new evidence and led to retrials. By exploring these crimes, isn’t it the same as investigative journalism?

You Decide

  1. Should Detainment have been banned from screens?


  1. Would you, or do you, watch and listen to true crime documentaries and podcasts? Write a paragraph explaining why you think they are OK/not OK.

Some People Say...

“Society needs to condemn a little more, and understand a little less.”

Sir John Major, who was prime minister in 1993, speaking after Thompson and Venables were arrested.

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
People have always enjoyed stories about gory murders. An older example of a true crime story is Edgar Allen Poe’s 1842 short story, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, which was about a real killing around the time.
What do we not know?
Why we are so fascinated by stories of murder. It could be the mystery of how people can be so evil or the adrenaline rush of feeling scared.

Word Watch

Now called Denise Fergus, since her son’s death she has campaigned for his killers to receive longer sentences.
Jon Venables
Venables and Thompson were the youngest children ever to be convicted of murder in Britain. The pair were released from prison with new identities in 2001. Venables has since been jailed again twice.
Vincent Lambe
Lambe said he does not intend to make money from the film. He has apologised to the Bulger family.
Official records of conversations.
Using a situation for your own gain in an unacceptable way.

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