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Michael Fergus says Denise never broke down in front of him and his two other brothers, but did everything she could to shield them from the horror of James’s killing by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. He said: “I feel like I’ve been brought up by Supermum or Wonder Woman. She points us in the right direction. Anything that we’ve ever hit a wall with, she’s always been there to help.”
“But life was often not normal. I don’t blame my mum for it at all but because of what they did to James we weren’t allowed past the gate.”
“I had all my friends coming over saying, ‘let’s go into town, let’s do this…’. So I would go and ask the boss and she’d always say ‘No’.”
James was a month shy of turning three when he was snatched by Venables and Thompson, both 10, at a Liverpool shopping centre on February 12 1993. His tortured body was found two days later, two and a half miles away by a rail line.
The crime shocked the world – and Denise and her family had to pick up the pieces of their lives.
The boys were convicted of murder in November 1993 and detained indefinitely.
They were freed aged 18 with new identities in 2001 after eight years in offenders institutes. Thompson, 39, has not reoffended but Venables was sent back to jail in 2010 and in 2017 after being caught with child sex abuse images.
He was denied parole in 2020 after a minimum 40 months but has reapplied for freedom – and James’ family are awaiting the decision.
In yesterday’s Sunday Express Michael urged Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to keep Venables in jail for the rest of his life. In the second part of an exclusive interview he today tells of his admiration for Denise, 56, and her husband Stuart who adopted him in 2006 before their first family holiday.
Michael, 29, said: “There was never a point when I’d see my mum break down. If she was angry she would take herself upstairs and have a scream. There were bad days and I think on those bad days the TV would be turned up louder to watch the cartoons or Stuart would take us out on our bikes.”
“Mum often says she sees similarities in all of us brothers with James, whether it’s eyes or the smile. It’s nice.”
One thing that saddens Michael, whose younger brothers are Thomas and Leon, is he missed out on having an older brother. He said: “There’s a lot of questions I would have liked to ask [James] if I had ever got to meet him, but obviously that was taken away. I would have had an older brother to look up to, maybe follow.
“Instead I had to become that older brother – the one to teach them how to put their shoes on. I would have liked to have been able to talk to him about things growing up.
“If he had still been here, I like to think I’d still be in the footsteps of James. I like to think I would still have done for them what he would have done for me. I would like to think I have done him proud.”
As well as a picture of James having pride of place above Denise and Stuart’s mantelpiece, Michael has one in his home in his “man-cave”.
He said: “When I was living at my mum’s house, I had a picture of James that was hanging on my wall. So I have it now. I put it by the Xbox.”
“It’s in the man’s room. Every time I go in there I see it.”
Michael dotes on his two-year-old daughter: “It is the best feeling in the world being a dad. She has brought a ray of sunshine to our family. I have thought about James not being able to meet her.
“But she’s got two uncles and I couldn’t ask for better.”
“The protective ways Mum had with us has made me exactly the same with my daughter. I’m a bit more overprotective as a parent than I probably should be.”
“I think I hold on to the hand tighter but it shouldn’t be like that.”
“With everything that’s happened she’s got no chance of leaving my side. I know where my mum was coming from.” He still finds it “weird” when people approach Denise while out shopping to support her campaigning: “They speak to her like they’ve known her for years. But it’s people trying to be kind-hearted really.”
Michael, in contrast, has enjoyed a life of relative anonymity. He said: “Not a lot of people know me as James’s brother.”
He added: “The only time people are a bit taken aback is when I start a new job, or I’ve got to explain something about why I’ve got to be off on an anniversary.”
“I don’t tell people unless it’s a need-to-know basis.”
“The reaction I get is often a small pause and then they normally don’t know what to say.”
“I’m very proud of who my brother is but I generally don’t tell them who he is unless they ask.”
The family all gathered at James’s grave yesterday to pay their respects and support each other on the 30th anniversary of his murder.
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