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James Patrick Bulger was murdered on the 12th of February 1993 at the age of two. He was abducted, tortured, and killed by two ten-year-old boys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Bulger was led away from his mother when she was in A.R. Tyms butcher shop in the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, England. Jamie’s mother contacted security as soon as she realised her son was missing and the police were called. While reviewing the shopping centre’s CCTV footage, they saw that Thompson and Venables had approached Bulger before taking him by the hand and leading him out of the shopping centre at 15:42. Thomson and Venables then lead Bulger from there to a railway track 2.5 miles away in Walton, Liverpool. This would later be confirmed by witness statements who saw the three boys together and, at the time, assumed they were family. Once arriving at the railway track, Thomson and Venables threw paint into Bulger’s face, some of which went into his left eye. The two boys threw stones at him, kicked him, and beat him with bricks. They then hit him with an iron bar, a partially rusted railway fishplate that was 20ins long and weighed 22lbs.
Before leaving the body, Thomson and Venables laid Bulger across the railway tracks and placed rubble over his head, in the hope that a train would hit him and make his death appear to be an accident. After they left the scene, Bulger’s dead body was cut in half by a train.
His mutilated body was found on the railway line two days later, on February 14th 1993.
The first breakthrough in finding James’s killers occurred when a woman called the police after she recognised CCTV images of the two boys, Thompson and Venables, on national television. She had seen the two boys the day James Bulger went missing and knew that they were skipping school. The police responded to the woman’s call and the two boys were arrested. The forensic evidence that was found and submitted to the jury was vital to the prosecution.
One piece of evidence that put Thomson and Venables at the scene of the crime was the blood found on the right shoe of one of the accused. A home office forensic scientist, Graham Jackson, said that there was only a one in a billion chance of error. DNA testing would have been used to match the blood found on the shoe to that of the victim’s. Forensic DNA testing is a process that begins with the DNA being isolated from the cells – in this case, blood cells -and then is duplicated by a process called “polymerase chain reaction”. This process copies a specific stretch of DNA over and over, making it easier to analyse. The genetic code is split into separate chunks and then analysed to create a genetic fingerprint. Unlike actual fingerprints, there is a small chance that two different people could have the same genetic markers, especially if they are related to one another. To minimize this risk of error, scientists will test more than one genetic marker from a strand of DNA. Bulger’s blood was also found on several bricks and on the 22lb iron bar.
A forensic pathologist, Dr Allan Williams, counted 22 wounds on James’s head and face and another 20 on his body. The wounds were so numerous that a final killing blow could not be established. Dr Williams determined that James would have already been dead by the time the train hit him as he had been stuck at least 30 times and would have endured “a short period of survival” after the attack began. The deep bruising on James’s head, along with a cut that went down to the skull and the extensive damage to the back of his head, suggested that bricks and the iron bar had been used. Bulger sustained extensive head injuries, including a haemorrhage at the centre of his brain. Dr Williams also noted a severe blow to James’s face that left a large bruise and grooved mark on the area around the right cheek and ear.
A forensic scientist named Philip Rydeard was able to match the markings left on James’s right cheek with a shoe worn by one of the boys. The shoe had an unusual arrangement of lacing rings as well as a distinctive stitching pattern.
Paint found at the crime scene and on James Bulger’s body was also found on the clothes of Thompson and Venables. Paint can be analysed in a few different ways to find a match: solvent tests, gas chromatography, and infrared spectrometry. Solvent tests involve exposing the paint samples to different chemicals and examining any changes that might take place (ie, a change in colour). Gas chromatography is used as a means of telling the difference between two paints that have the same colour, but have a different chemical composition. The paint sample is heated until it breaks down and is then separated into its components. Infrared spectrometry makes use of infrared light to determine the type of paint by examining the way that the paint’s various components absorb or reflect infrared light.
Over the course of the trial, thirty-eight witnesses took the stand and said they had seen Bulger walking with Thompson and Venables, none of which could have ever foreseen the events that unfolded later that day.
In addition, the 27 bricks, stones, and the 22lb iron rod used as weapons by Thompson and Venables were all presented to in court to eliminate any idea that the boys’ may be innocent.
To conclude, the forensic evidence provided during the trial of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables was crucial to their prosecution. The DNA evidence from the traces of blood found on their clothes, as well as the shoe mark left on James Bulger’s cheek, and the paint found on both the victim and the perpetrators’ clothing, provided absolute proof that Thompson and Venables had been at the scene of the crime. Backed up by CCTV footage and witness statements, this evidence lead to the prosecution of the youngest murderers in UK history.
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