Man who discovered James Bulger's body dies in police custody in Liverpool

James Riley discovered the body of two-year-old James Bulger when he was just 14-years-old. Credit: Liverpool Echo

The man who discovered the body of James Bulger when he was a teenager has died in police custody.

James Riley, 44, was taken into custody at St Anne Street Police Station in Liverpool on 14 March after being approached by officers on Scotland Road at around 9.45pm.

He remained in a cell overnight, but at around 5pm the following day police staff were made aware he was on the floor and required medical attention.

Paramedics were called and the man was taken to hospital, where he was confirmed dead.

Riley had been convicted more than 40 times for a range of offences and had been a known drug addict, something his family say was a result of him discovering James' body with brother Terence Riley on a railway line in Walton in 1993, when he was aged just 14.

James Bulger was tortured and killed by the men formerly known as Venables and Robert Thompson - who were then both aged 10 - after they snatched him from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, on February 12 1993.

They then led James to the disused Walton & Anfield railway station, near Walton Lane police station, where they murdered him.

In May 2017, James Riley was sentenced to two years and four months behind bars after admitting a spate of commercial burglaries.

Sarah Holt, defending him, said: “He has been a drug addict for a considerable period of time – all his adult life and in fact most of his adolescence.

“His problems can be traced back to when he was 14, when he experienced a very traumatic event.

“It was an event I suggest that meant he is suffering from PTSD, though not diagnosed. He never sought counselling he tells me.

“That led him at 14 to try crack cocaine and his problems really spiralled from thereon in.”

James Bulger was tragically murdered aged just two-years-old. Credit: ITV News

In 2021, Riley was found dumped on the street wearing just his underwear and holding a knife after a gang sought money for a debt he owed.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard how Riley suffered with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Independent Office for Police Custody (IOPC) is now investigating Riley's death.

IOPC Regional Director Catherine Bates said: "This was a tragic incident in which a man has sadly died and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.

"Merseyside Police referred this matter to us, and as he was in the custody of police at the time he became unwell, it is important there is a thorough and independent investigation.

"We will examine all relevant matters including the interaction officers had with the man on the street, and what happened after he arrived at the custody suite. We have made contact with his family to explain our role and will update them as our enquiries progress."

Merseyside Police said previously officers are fully cooperating with the IOPC.

A spokesperson for the force said: "We are aware that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating the death of a 44-year-old man in police custody in Liverpool on Wednesday, March 15.

"The force’s Professional Standards Department mandatorily referred the matter to the IOPC following the sad news that the man had passed away and we are fully cooperating with their investigation team. His next of kin have been informed and Merseyside Police would like to offer its condolences to the family for their loss."