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By Abernathy
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This is a bit of a tricky topic. Vincent Lambe, an Irish film maker, has made a short film in which young actors re-enact verbatim the interviews that were conducted 26 years ago with John Venables and Robert Thompson, the two ten year olds who in 1993 abducted and murdered two year old James Bulger. The film has been nominated for an Academy award in the category of Best Short Film.

However, Mr Lambe, it seems, did not inform the mother of James Bulger that he was making his film, nor seek her consent to proceed with making the film. ... lph-bulger

Now Denise Fergus is vocally protesting at the "outrage" that Mr Lambe has perpetrated.

There are a number of difficulties with this.

For most people, myself included, there is no lack of sympathy for Ms Fergus and her continuing berevement, even 26 years after the appalling, almost without precedent, event.

I've not seen the film, but I'd agree that Mr Lambe ought to, as a basic matter of courtesy, have informed Ms Fergus about his project.

However, here is where the difficulties arise.

Does Ms Fergus have a right of veto over any work of art that touches on the tragedy of her son's murder? I understand the work is principally concerned with the killers, Venables & Thompson, but inevitably it touches upon the victim, if only tangentially. My feeling is that she does not. The interview transcripts are in the public domain, as are, as far as it is possible to determine, all the known facts of the case.

Should the case of James' murder never be treated or explored via artistic media? This is, I think, moot, but it has certainly been documented, not least in the books that both Ms Fergus and Ralph Bulger, James' father, have published. The closest comparable case, that of Mary Bell, was notably explored by the distinguished writer Gitta Sereny in her book, "Cries Unheard".

Ms Fergus is, of course, entitled to grieve for her murdered son in perpetuity. However, I think it is questionable whether she is entitled to the leeway or the ownership of the publicly documented information concerning the case of her son's murder that she seems to seek. There is a social and educational value in trying to understand the sort of influences and factors that led two ten year old boys to commit such a shocking crime, and I'd argue that the medium of drama is as valid as any other - cf previous dramatisations of, for example, the crimes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

I do think that this is an interesting topic, and worthy of discussion. It's sensitive, and predictably radio phone-ins today featured scousers outraged on behalf of Ms Fergus - another aspect of this case being the very particular psyche and folklore concerning solidarity of quite a few inhabitants of that city.

Interested to hear people's views.
By Timbo
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It's rather unfortunate that Denise Fergus has been whipped up and tormented on an almost constant basis by the scummier end of the press in order to provide fodder to lazy journalists looking to manufacture some outrage with the hard-of-thinking. I think this rather colours my instinctive reaction to her whenever she is mentioned, not necessarily because of anything she has said or done - and I entirely agree that her pain is entirely legitimate and beyond question - but because she has, for some years, been used to prop up ridiculous arguments like bringing back hanging, removing anonymity from her son's killers after release, and various other absurd right-wing canards that any civilised society knows better than to even consider.

I think that while it was certainly cowardly and discourteous not to inform her that this film was being made, I think the fact that this is a matter of press discussion has much more to do with 'LOOK AT HER! - FEEL SOME OUTRAGE ON HER BEHALF AND FEEL SELF-RIGHTEOUS OVER IT!' than it does with anything to do with real debate.
By youngian
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If this was a tacky exploitation b-movie of questionable taste I would get the outrage but a dramatisation of the transcripts was televised at the time of the convicton (World in Action I think) without anyone complaining. You can guess the sequence of events for this one; Hack notices the nomination, rings up the mother to blindside her with a loaded question about a film she knows little about: “Do you think it’s right for these film makers to profit from your son’s horrific death?” What else is this poor woman going to say apart from express disapproval?
By davidjay
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It's a variation on an old theme. Keith Bennett's mother was wheeled onto so many TV shows, on so many loosely-connected themes, that you began to wonder how much was helping her grieve and how much was her enjoying the tenuous fame.
By Daley Mayle
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Remember Leah Betts? She died during the times when there was outrage among the tabloids about young people taking ecstasy. The parents allowed the media to use a photo of Leah in hospital for what they saw as the right reasons, to warn parents and young people about the dangers of taking drugs. Every time there was another incident of death/serious illness linked to taking ecstasy she was on the tabloids' speed dial for a quote.

As it happened Leah did not die as a direct result of taking ecstasy but the massive amount of water she drank after getting overheated. Mrs Betts tried to push the educational aspect of taking ecstasy such as cooling off areas, making sure you don't get dehydrated but she was totally ignored by the media who were fixated on young people taking drugs (rather than consuming vast quantities of alcohol that many hacks then indulged in).

Mrs Betts realised she was being used and then refused forcefully to make any further comments to the media.
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By Daley Mayle
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In reply to Abers' OP I heard the producer/director of the film saying he regretted not talking to Mrs Bulger first.

The cynic in me thinks that the producer/director knew that Mrs Bulger would have been against such a film and, with the backing of the tabloids, campaign to stop the production.

The film must be a good film, hence the nomination, but what was the purpose of it being made? As has been said upthread this subject has been covered many times in the last 20 years.

I have always thought that the notoriety of the abduction was enhanced by those grainy CCTV images of the boy being led away.
By Andy McDandy
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There's been a recent drama focusing on the killings of Millie Dowler and co, which put the emphasis on the police investigation and pointedly shied away from the killer or the bodies. OK, they were teenagers rather than young kids, but the programme makers said they wanted to concentrate on depicting a murder investigation realistically rather than inadvertently glorify a killer or satisfy the ghouls.
By youngian
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Wasn’t Mr Betts a copper? I seemed to recall he became more nuanced and admitted how poor his knowledge of the subject was despite being job.

The mother of one of the Moors Murder victim (Keith Bennet?) was one of the most distressing people to watch as a broken woman who clearly found no peace being used on Kilroy type shows to confront pussy liberals who opposed the death penalty. I saw her break down in tears while creepy Kilroy put holis arm around her after inviting her in the studio to trigger the tears. Putting a human face to the misery caused by a political policy to hammer home the point is one thing but Wheeling mothers of murdered children serves no public interest purpose.
By Malcolm Armsteen
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Does this help? ... ames-smith
Jon Venables is an adult now, and a recurrently paedophilic adult. Since his parole in 2010, he has twice been reincarcerated for the possession of child pornography. He is the worst case scenario, the hardest kind of criminal for those of us who would argue for his anonymity to defend. But that’s the thing about moral principles: they must apply to every case, including the most distressing, dispiriting, worst case scenario: like this one.
By Andy McDandy
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Circumstances were a bit different. Rhys Jones's killer hasn't had the subsequent notoriety or reoffending as Venables has had. Awful to say, but his death was "cleaner"*. It was marked with outpurings of grief and sympathy, but not the visceral anger witnessed with the killing of Jamie Bulger.

A few years ago, an episode of Jimmy McGovern's series, "The Street", dealt with a thinly disguised Venables/Thompson plot, as did I believe a soap (Hollyoaks?). No real outcry over those. One step removed maybe?

*Shot in a botched gangland hit, rather than tortured to death. Obviously still a bloody appalling event.
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The memory for me is still raw. I worked in Bootle at the time (first of two separate stints totalling 14 years), just a quarter of a mile away from the Strand shopping centre , and I was there that Friday lunchtime, a few hours before James was abducted. I recall racking my brains trying to remember if I had seen two lads together while I was walking around. If I did, I couldn't remember them because I wasn't looking out for two lads obviously, it was a shopping centre, and as with any shopping area there are people around and you don't pay attention to them unless they draw attention to themselves, by being loud usually. I knew the route they walked to the railway track as I had walked about two thirds of it many times on my journey home and for a toddler that who probably takes three steps for an adult's one, that would have been a very long, tiring walk indeed.

The major news on the Saturday morning was that a house got raided on a street in Kirkdale (a mile away from the Strand) in connection with the abduction, it ultimately turned out those residents had nothing to do with it. This has got me thinking about what if Twitter had been around back then. There would possibly have been all kinds of false accusations flying around, people getting targeted by ad-hoc lynch mobs.

I remember on my way to work on the day they appeared in South Sefton. seeing all the media vans in the car park of the Merton pub opposite. From where I worked a couple of hundred yards away, you couldn't see the crowd outside the court. Andy above used the term "visceral anger". This was the day it was possibly visible the most, when the vans supposedly, but later revealed to have been decoys, containing Venables and Thompson were attacked.

I feel uneasy that this film was made without the family's consent, let alone any lack of communication, and the fact it is up for awards.That some glory could possibly be had by the makers just feels wrong.
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By Abernathy
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AOB wrote:
Fri Jan 25, 2019 6:58 am
The memory for me is still raw.


I feel uneasy that this film was made without the family's consent, let alone any lack of communication, and the fact it is up for awards.That some glory could possibly be had by the makers just feels wrong.
Is your view purely coloured by your proximity to the events of the time?

I agree with you that it was wrong of the film maker not to have informed the parents of James Bulger of his project, and indeed I understand Mr Lambe has voiced some contrition on the particular point.

But I'd say it has been nominated for an award not because of its subject matter, but for its technical and artistic merits. I'd be very uncomfortable with say, Denise Fergus having a right of veto over any artistic enterprise touching on her son's awful case.
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