Last night’s murder of a nine-year-old girl in Liverpool came 15 years to the day since 11-year-old Rhys Jones was shot dead in the city while walking home from football.
The death of the little boy, a devoted fan of Everton football club, triggered national uproar – but gun crime in Liverpool is still sadly all too familiar.
There were 211 firearms offences on Merseyside from April 2021 to March 2022 compared to 140 the year before – a rise of 51 per cent.
However, the figures have been distorted by a drop in Covid, with the 227 firearms offences in 2019 to 2020 comparable to this year’s figure.
The latest gun killing in the Old Swan area of Liverpool was the third in the space of a week.
On Sunday, 28-year-old woman Ashley Dale was shot dead in the same area, whilst 22-year-old ‘amazing young man’ Sam Rimmer died from gunshot wounds on August 16 in Dingle.
Ms Dale was the sister of 16-year-old Lewis Dunne, who was gunned down on a canal towpath in 2016.
Two years before Rhys’s death, mother-of-three Lucy Hargreaves was shot dead by three masked men while sitting on her sofa in her home – as her children aged nine months, five and two slept upstairs.
And in 2004, 16-year-old Liam Kelly was gunned down in the street over an unpaid £200 debt, and his killer remains at large.
Besides the latest killings, there have been a spate of shootings in recent weeks and months in Liverpool, with a man shot in the leg outside a pub on July 31 and bullets shattering a window opposite a children’s play park on June 8.
Experts have previously told how, since Rhys’s killing, gangs in Liverpool have become less sophisticated but more reckless, meaning violence can break out over seemingly meaningless rows.
Residents of an estate in the Wavertree area – where there were three shootings in three days earlier this year – describing how it is ‘normal’ to hear gun shots as criminals fight over drug-selling territory.
The Woodchurch estate in Wirral has also been hit by gun crime. On March 22, a gunman opened fire on a man while children were playing nearby, leaving him critically injured.
Another incident in the same area in June saw a gang of masked men carrying weapons burst into a pub.
Other shootings have erupted in the Croxteth area, with one on July 10 involving a gunman on an electric bike who shot a man multiple times in the leg.
Despite the crimes, the number of actual shootings on Merseyside is on the decline. According to Merseyside Police, there were 43 shootings last year, compared to 125 in 2012. The figures represent a 43 per cent fall.
And the latest fatal shootings were the first in more than a year, after 26-year-old Patrick Boyle was shot dead last July.
Today, Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy named the girl murdered last night as Olivia Pratt-Korbel and said her ‘family are absolutely devastated, inconsolable and heartbroken’.
Olivia Pratt-Korbel (left) was today named by police as the nine-year-old victim of a horrific shooting last night in Liverpool
Last night’s murder came 15 years to the day since 11-year-old Rhys Jones was shot dead in the city while walking home from football. Pictured: The scene this morning cordoned off by police who have also closed the road after the girl’s shooting
There were 211 firearms offences on Merseyside from April 2021 to March 2022 compared to 140 the year before – a rise of 51 per cent
Rhys Jones, killed aged 11 in 2007
The 11-year-old was shot dead in 2007 while walking home from football practice in Croxteth.
The child was caught in the crossfire between two warring gangs – the Strand Gang and the Croxteth Crew.
Sean Mercer – who was 16 at the time of the shooting – was convicted of his murder and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 22 years.
The bullet fired from the Smith and Wesson gun that was used had been intended for Mercer’s rival Wayne Brady.
Rhys Jones, aged just 11, was shot dead in 2007 while walking home from football practice in Croxteth. The child was caught in the crossfire between two warring gangs – the Strand Gang and the Croxteth Crew. Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of his death
Mercer’s accomplices were also sent to prison. Jason Yates was jailed for seven years aged 20 for supplying the Smith and Wesson pistol.
Sean Mercer – who was 16 at the time of the shooting – was convicted of his murder and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 22 years
He also helped Mercer to cover his tracks by washing him in petrol in the hope of destroying evidence.
In 2009, Yates was jailed for a further five years after his sentence was judged to have been unduly lenient.
Nathan Quinn, then 18, was jailed for two years for helping Mercer to get rid of the murder weapon and his clothes.
The other accomplices, Melvin Coy and Gary Kays, were sentenced to seven years each, whilst Dean Kelly was jailed for four years.
When the gang were sentenced, Mr Justice Irwin branded them ‘selfish, shallow criminals, remarkable only by the danger you pose to others.’
Speaking last year, Rhys’s father Steve recounted the moment he heard the news that was told by Rhys’s mother Melanie that he had been shot:
‘I was on the M57 heading up towards Southport when Mel phoned saying that Rhys had been shot and I needed to go home,’ he said.
‘She sounded distraught, absolutely in tears, you could hear in her voice.’ With Mel now at the scene, Rhys was rushed to hospital.’
He added: ‘Your mind just doesn’t want to take it in, doesn’t want to accept it.’
The Daily Mail covered the death of Rhys Jones extensively and featured the heartbreaking words of his mother and father Steve and Melanie
Ashley Dale, shot dead aged 28 on Sunday
Ashley Dale was a graduate of Liverpool John Moores University and worked for Knowsley Council.
The 28-year-old, described as a ‘lovely, hardworking’ young woman with an ‘infectious’ smile, was shot dead in her home in Old Swan on Sunday.
Thugs are thought to have burst through the door of her £70,000 three-bedroom terraced home, where she ‘lived largely on her own’, and sprayed bullets inside.
Police were called by neighbours reporting the sound of what they thought were gunshots or fireworks, and officers found graduate Miss Dale in the back garden.
Ashley Dale was a graduate of Liverpool John Moores University and worked for Knowsley Council. The 28-year-old, described as a ‘lovely, hardworking’ young woman with an ‘infectious’ smile, was shot dead in her home in Old Swan on Sunday
Merseyside Police believe the property was purposefully targeted, but Miss Dale was not the intended victim. She was treated at the scene but died later in hospital.
A car was found with flat tyres outside, with police saying it was used by Miss Dale and registered to her family. The vehicle has now been removed to be examined.
Ms Dale’s death came seven years after her own brother Lewis Dunne was shot dead aged 16 by a gang who mistook him for a rival, although her death is said to be unrelated to this.
Lewis Dunne, shot dead aged 16 in 2015
Ms Dale’s brother, Lewis Dunne, was gunned down on a canal towpath in 2015 aged just 16.
The ‘kind, gentle’ boy was ‘wholly innocent’ had simply been ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ police said. Police have not linked the siblings’ killings.
Lewis Dunne was on his way to a shop when he walked into the path of four men lying in wait with a loaded weapon and with ‘murderous intent’, Liverpool Crown Court was told.
On the day of his death, Sunday November 15, Lewis had arranged to meet a friend on the canal towpath to borrow his bicycle.
In 2016, Jake Culshaw, then 26, and brothers John and Paul Martin, then aged 20 and 26 respectively, were jailed for life.
Ms Dale’s brother, Lewis Dunne (pictured with his sister), was gunned down on a canal towpath in 2015 aged just 16. The ‘kind, gentle’ boy was ‘wholly innocent’ had simply been ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ police said. Police have not linked the siblings’ killings
Lewis’s mother Gemma Whitfield said after the men were convicted: ‘Lewis was my baby. I was 20 years old when he came into my life and young myself but already older than he would get to be. From the moment I held him in my arms I felt love.
‘I could talk for hours about about Lewis. A smile that would light up a room, a hug that would lessen the worries of the world and a gift for making everyone feel important. You could not be sad in his presence.
‘There is nothing he would not have done for anybody. Wherever he went he got along with people.
‘Lewis was a gentle, peace-loving boy, vibrant and oh so alive, but now he is dead.’
Sam Rimmer, shot dead aged 22 on August 16
Sam Rimmer was shot dead last Tuesday, before two men fled the scene on electric bikes.
Sam Rimmer was shot dead last Tuesday, before two men fled the scene on electric bikes
The 22-year-old was given CPR until paramedics arrived and he was taken to hospital, where he died.
Two men in dark clothing were seen leaving the scene. Merseyside Police said a ‘number of shots’ were fired.
Mr Rimmer’s death was the first murder involving a firearm in Merseyside in more than a year, after Patrick Boyle was killed last July.
Mr Rimmer was described in tributes as ‘an amazing young man’, with his killing branded ‘senseless.’
A series of five loud bangs were reportedly heard when Mr Rimmer was shot.
It is not clear if Mr Rimmer was the intended target of the shooting.
Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Kameen said it was ‘a despicable attack’ and the victim’s family were ‘desperately trying to come to terms with their loss’.
‘We need to find those responsible, and I would ask members of the public who may have information which could help us bring those people to justice to put themselves in the shoes of Sam’s family and think about what they are going through and the pain this has caused them,’ he said.
‘If you live in the area, or were passing through at about 11.40pm on Tuesday, you may have seen something that could be vital for us and I would urge you to get in touch.’
Patrick Boyle, 26 – July 2021
Patrick Boyle was shot twice in the chest in the Newway area of Liverpool on July 1st last year after a row with killers Rueben Murphy and Ben Doyle.
On the day of the murder Murphy was involved in an altercation with another man, Scott Brown, who he claimed owed him money for cannabis and was a friend of the victim.
Mr Boyle was also there, and it appears to have escalated quickly with the thug plotting to kill the victim the same day.
Patrick Boyle (pictured) was shot twice in the chest in the Newway area of Liverpool on July 1st last year after a row with killers Rueben Murphy and Ben Doyle
After picking up the weapon and ammunition, he was picked up by Doyle and driven on an electric bike disguised with black bin bags wrapped around it, to a house in Newway, Huyton, shortly before 6pm, where he opened fire.
Mr Boyle, who had a three-year-old son and was expecting another with his pregnant partner, Ashleigh Dean, died within an hour due to his injuries – Ms Dean was not able to reach the hospital before he died.
Murphy had denied any role in the shooting, claiming he was doing drugs in another part of Huyton at the time.
But police found a treasure trove of evidence, including clothing containing gunshot residue and his DNA in his home, while CCTV also showed he was in the area at the time.
A jury convicted him and Doyle of murder. The pair were jailed for life, with a minimum term of 27 years.
When Murphy was sentenced in July, he branded the judge at Liverpool Crown Court a ‘fat paedophile’ and also shouted ‘f**k the system’.
Rueben Murphy (pictured left), from Huyton, screamed and shouted as he was jailed for life with a minimum term of 31 years for murder. Ben Doyle (right) was also jailed for life and given a minimum term of 27 years for his role in the murder
Lucy Hargreaves, shot dead on her sofa aged 22 in 2005
The 22-year-old mother-of-three was shot dead on her sofa in the Walton area of Liverpool in 2005 by three masked men as her children, aged nine months, two, and five, slept upstairs.
Mother-of-three Lucy Hargreaves was shot dead on her sofa in 2005
The gang then set her on fire. No one has ever been brought to justice for one of Liverpool’s most notorious unsolved murders.
On the night of her murder the duvet cover Lucy was sleeping under was covered in petrol and set alight.
Fuel was also poured around the entrance and stairs of the property to block any escape for those upstairs.
Gary Campbell, Lucy’s boyfriend, who may have been the intended target, was sleeping upstairs with the couple’s youngest daughter Faye.
He escaped the blaze by jumping with his daughter from an upstairs window, before running inside to pull Lucy out.
Tragically, his girlfriend had died from the gunshot wounds.
Despite his heroic actions on the night, Mr Campbell is believed to have been the target because of his past.
Mr Campbell had allegedly been a passenger in a stolen car that hit and killed a four-year-old boy in 1993.
The child who had died was the brother of one of the defendants in the original case.
Tony Downes, stood trial at Liverpool Crown Court, but the case against him and Kirk Bradley, 21, both of Huyton, was dropped.
Police continue to hunt suspect Kevin Parle over Lucy’s death, as well as that of 16-year-old Liam Kelly, who was shot dead in 2004.
Liam Kelly, shot dead aged 16 over £200 debt – 2005
Liam Kelly is believed to have been shot dead due to an unpaid debt of just £200. Anthony Campbell, who was owed the money, pleaded guilty to arranging the teenager’s murder and was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of more than two decades
Liam Kelly is believed to have been shot dead due to an unpaid debt of just £200.
He was shot twice at close range by a masked man carrying a double-barrelled shotgun.
He staggered to a neighbour’s house but then collapsed and died shortly afterwards.
Anthony Campbell, who was owed the money, pleaded guilty to arranging the teenager’s murder and was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of more than two decades.
However, no one has been convicted of Kelly’s murder.
The police’s prime suspect is Kevin Parle, who has been wanted by officers for the past 16 years. He is also wanted over the killing of Lucy Hargreaves.
Parle was arrested in connection with Kelly’s killing but then failed to answer his bail and absconded from the UK.
In a statement, last year, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Baker, of Merseyside Police, said: ‘Despite time passing, we are continuing to investigate Liam’s murder.
‘His family have suffered greatly knowing that Kevin Parle could be out there somewhere and hasn’t been put before the courts.
‘Kevin has denied a teenager reaching major milestones in his life – including family celebrations, birthdays, careers and relationships – something so many of us take for granted.
‘When Liam was murdered, his mother Mary made a heartfelt plea directly to his friends and associates where she begged them to tell the police anything that might help us bring his killers to justice.