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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Lawyer who defended toddler Jamie Bulger’s killer tells of his ‘living nightmare’

Paul Keaveny

Published 05/02/2013 | 10:35

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Jon Venables

A LAWYER today told of his "living nightmare" at representing one of James Bulger's child murderers, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the toddler's death.

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Solicitor Laurence Lee said at first he could not believe the "angelic-looking" Jon Venables could possibly have carried out such a brutal and sadistic killing.

But "the walls came crashing in" soon into his client's police interviews when it became clear that Venables had been lying and that he had in fact carried out the killing with his friend Robert Thompson, also then aged 10.

Mr Lee represented the then 10-year-old Venables from the moment his client was arrested by police on February 18, 1993.

Describing his first meeting with Venables, Mr Lee, who now runs his own law firm in Liverpool, said: "He was like an angelic-looking eight-year-old. I thought 'what am I doing here? He couldn't be capable of anything like this'. He was so convincing in his first interview that he had been nowhere near the Strand."

Venables claimed that he had been on County Road, near Everton’s football ground Goodison Park, with Thompson but said neither of them had been at the shopping centre where the toddler went missing.

Mr Lee, 59, said: "And I believed him. He was convincing. And it was only after there was a time-out and the officers who interviewed Thompson had a briefing and came back for the second interview.

"And again I was in blissful ignorance thinking, it's the easiest money - I felt guilty, actually, because this boy had had nothing to do with anything, I thought - until having got him cosy with his little space pens and his can of Coke, they kept him nice and relaxed and they said 'look we've spoken to Robert and he says you were in The Strand'."

After a silence, Venables responded: "Well, ok, we were in the Strand but we never grabbed a kid."

Mr Lee said: "He got up and he grabbed his mum and he was crying and I thought 'oh my God, what have I let myself in for here?'

"The walls came crashing in at that moment and I knew what he was like and it was...God it was like a living nightmare."

He said he was "caught up in a maelstrom of massive criminology" and it was something he could not have prepared for.

"It was the kind of case that no solicitor had ever dealt with. I was in my 30s and I had never dealt with anything like this before."

When he was led out of that second interview, police had to check his car as he was a possible target for reprisals.

He said: "I had never been in this position before. I thought I was going to get assassinated or something at first because the public's feelings - including my own - were running high."

Mr Lee said from then on it was extremely difficult getting instructions from the young Venables.

He said that he and junior defence barrister Richard Isaacson would sit with Venables at Red Bank secure unit in St Helens, Merseyside, playing Tetris on Nintendo Gameboys and trying to get him relaxed enough to talk openly and "eke information" out of him.

But Venables had "mentally shut down" by that point, Mr Lee said.

The lawyer said one of the hardest parts of the case was looking after Venables' parents who he described as "very respectable people who were going through a nightmare".

"They were good people. Lovely people. They didn't have a clue what was happening," he said.

Mr Lee said as far as Venables was concerned his background was "no worse than any kid in Liverpool" and at the time he had actually been given a responsibility by his schoolteacher.

Mr Lee said: "He was on his way to pick up the gerbils from the school and it was only because he bumped into Thompson who said, 'forget the gerbils, let’s go robbin'."

He added: "Thompson had this kind of hold. He was like the Pied Piper."

Venables claimed that he was an unwilling participant in the attack.

But Mr Lee said the "terrible injuries suffered by that poor child" could not have been carried out by just one of them.

Remembering the trial, which was held in Preston Crown Court, Mr Lee said: "They couldn't have found a more daunting venue than court one at Preston. It is scary."

He said they had to raise the dock by 18 inches so the defendants could see over the top of the rails.

Despite being Venables' defence solicitor, he said he would have "happily" prosecuted the case against them and said his heart always went out to the Bulger family.

"My number one sentiment is for Denise (James' mother) - still is and always will be. The wounds re-open for that lady every time this comes up and now must be horrendous for her."

He said he was shocked that Venables, who was jailed in 2010 for downloading child pornography, had re-offended and that Thompson had managed to stay "under the radar".

He added: "Venables couldn't handle being out. He was always looking over his shoulder.

"They may be at liberty but they will never be free. And Venables may have had his liberty but he was never free; couldn't handle it and I think it was almost a cry for help from him to get remanded back into custody."

Mr Lee, who has not seen Venables since 1994, said he "does not want to know" Venables.

Mr Lee said the Bulger case was a life-changing event for him, which he said made him ill for some time after the trial.

He added: "We are all human beings and everybody was affected by it. Nobody with any heart could have failed to have been affected by that case."

Ralph Bulger, James' father, is releasing a new book called My James which will be published ahead of the 20-year anniversary of the murder next Tuesday.

In comments published at the weekend, he spoke of how in his darkest moments he blamed Denise for letting their son out of her sight - a reaction which now makes him feel deeply ashamed.

He also spoke about how he downed two bottles of whisky a day to blot out the pain... and how he thought about killing himself in the wake of the tragedy.

Speaking about the end of the trial he said: "I thought I was going to combust on the spot. It was the right result. It meant my son's killers were going to be punished. But I didn't feel euphoric. I leaned in slowly and kissed Denise on the cheek. 'We got them', I whispered.

"What we didn't realise then was that the spotlight would never leave this case, and that so much more was to come."

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