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Why I took part in Channel 5’s James Bulger documentary

Caravan Media’s acclaimed  documentary ‘James Bulger: The New Revelations’ airs again on Channel 5 on Wednesday April 17th at 10pm. Amanda Knowles tells Underworld TV why she chose to take part in this controversial programme.

I was the manager of Eccles and Irlam Children’s Resource Centre with responsibility for Barton Moss secure children’s home when Robert Thompson was admitted in February 1993 following the murder of James Bulger. I left this position at the end of 1995 and claim no credit for his rehabilitation, that belongs to the Manager, his Deputy and the dedicated team who re-parented him.

There are no words that can describe the horror of what happened to James or communicate the empathy I felt for his family at that time or since.

I was the mother of a 10year old at the time James was murdered, soon after I lost a 2year old nephew to childhood cancer, I am now the grandmother of a 2year old and I have worked in children’s social care for over 40years.

My decision to contribute to the program was not an attempt to lessen the magnitude of this crime, ignore pain suffered or to seek forgiveness for Robert or Jon and I completely understood that any attempt to make sense of such a senseless crime carried the risk of misinterpretation.

Public opinion about what should happen to Robert and Jon was divided between correction and punishment at the time and debate following the program sadly shows that it remains so despite advances in our understanding of the detriment caused by adverse childhood experiences

The suggestion that society needs to understand what makes a child a murderer led some to judge supporters of this view as, “pathetic” and to accuse program makers of giving them “a tap on the back”. Mercifully others agreed with the message intended… on that terrible day in 1993 three children were failed and it is incredible that we still don’t know why.

Children are not born evil, something went tragically wrong. How was it possible 4 years on the Children Act 1989 and 3 years after the enactment of The United Nations Convention of Children’s Rights in this country, that these children were failed by the system designed to protect them and, why wasn’t there a serious case review?

If a small child’s life taken by children who lost their childhoods as a result doesn’t demand answers, what does?

Surely it is not acceptable to side-step the obvious questions raised by this tragedy… why were these boys spending so much time left to their own devices on the streets, late at night when they should have been at home, tucked up in bed, homework done and looking forward to the next day at school?

What Robert and Jon did was without question wrong, they were tried as adults at 10years old and punished according to the law in this country. Yet perhaps somewhat paradoxically those responsible for their safety and well-being have never been called to account for their actions or lack of them as the case will undoubtedly be.

At a time when our schools and children’s services are stretched to the limit, gang membership, organised crime, addiction, street homelessness and violence is on the rise and our prisons are full of vulnerable children come of age I stand by my informed view that crimes as horrific as this are not explained by the concept of born evil.

As I see it, there is a choice… to persist in being angry and locating blame with individuals or to learn what needs to be done differently in society to draw meaning from this awful event and other lesser known but equally horrific crimes in order to prevent this from ever happening again.

Amanda Knowles 17th November 2018

‘James Bulger: The New Revelations’ Channel 5, Wednesday April 17th , 10pm

 

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