Solicitor Laurence Lee said that, 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 carried out the killing with his friend Robert Thompson, also then aged 10.
Lee represented the then 10-year-old Venables from the moment his client was arrested by police on Feb 18, 1993.
Describing his first meeting with Venables, Lee, who now runs his own law firm, said: “He was like an angelic-looking 8-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 he had been on County Rd, near Goodison Park, with Thompson but said neither of them had been at the shopping centre where the toddler went missing.
Lee, 59, said: “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.”
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,” said Lee. “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.
Lee said that as far as Venables was concerned, his background was “no worse than any kid in Liverpool” and at the time he had been given a responsibility by his schoolteacher.
He 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, lets go robbing.’
“Thompson had this kind of hold. He was like the Pied Piper.”
Venables claimed that he was an unwilling participant in the attack. But 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, Lee said they had to raise the dock 45cm so the defendants could see over the top of the rails.
Lee, who has not seen Venables since 1994, said he “does not want to know” Venables. He said the Bulger case was a life-changing event for him, which he said made him ill for some time after the trial.
Ralph Bulger, James’ father, is releasing a 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 then wife 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.”