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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (16) - Member of the Croxteth Crew gang - Mercer, then 16, was firing at rival gang members when a bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck Rhys
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 22, 2007
Date of arrest: April 15, 2008
Date of birth: 1990
Victim profile: Rhys Milford Jones, 11
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Liverpool, Merseyside, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 22 years on December 17, 2008

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Sean Mercer

Rhys Jones


The murder of Rhys Milford Jones (27 September 1995 – 22 August 2007) occurred in Liverpool when he was shot in the back. 16-year-old Sean Mercer went on trial on 2 October 2008, and was found guilty of murder on 16 December. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 22 years.


Jones was the son of Stephen (born in Liverpool) and Melanie Jones (née Edwards; born in Wrexham). They have an older son, Owen (born 1990). Jones, who would have turned 12 one month after his death, had just left Broad Square Primary School on the Norris Green housing estate, and was due to start secondary school at Fazakerley High School in September 2007. His headteacher and neighbours said he was a friendly and popular boy who loved football.


Jones, who played for the Fir Tree Boys football club, was on his way home from football practice alone. As he was crossing the Fir Tree pub car park in the Croxteth Park estate, Liverpool, a hooded youth riding a silver mountain bike approached. He then held out a Smith & Wesson handgun at arm's length, firing three shots.

It was originally believed that one of the shots hit Jones in the neck, but during the trial, the pathologist revealed that the bullet had entered his back above his left shoulder blade and then exited from the front right side of his neck. The shooting occurred in daylight at 7.30 pm BST.

Jones' mother rushed to the scene when she heard what had happened. By the time his mother had reached him, he was unconscious. Paramedics tried for one and a half hours to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead some time later at Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

Local radio station Radio City 96.7's programming on the night of the incident, in particular the 10pm–2am show, was dedicated to an amnesty for witnesses and a talk on gun crime. Radio City also launched their anti-gun-crime campaign (backed by Jones' parents), In Rhys's Name Get Guns Off Our Streets, after the incident.

Arrests and investigation

Detectives arrested and later released four people aged between 15 and 19 in connection with the crime. Two further arrests (both teenagers) were made, but both suspects were soon released on bail pending further enquiries.

The police appealed to the public for information, stating that they needed help in finding those who had committed the crime. The murder weapon was described as a black handgun with a long barrel. More than 300 officers and gun crime specialists were deployed in the hunt for the killer.

Jones' parents made a fresh appeal for witnesses to come forward on 19 September, four weeks after the murder, which was reconstructed on Crimewatch on 26 September. In the episode, Jones' mother appealed directly to the murderer's mother to turn her son in. It led to 12 people calling into the programme, all of whom gave police the same name. Despite reports that the killer's name was widely known and had appeared on internet sites and in graffiti, police continued their appeal for witnesses to come forward.

On 15 April 2008, Merseyside police confirmed that 11 people (all aged between 17 and 25) had been arrested in connection with the case. Six more males of a similar age were arrested the next day in connection with the murder – one for murder and the other five for assisting an offender. One of these men had already been charged with possessing a firearm. All six of them were remanded in custody by Liverpool Magistrates on 17 April 2008. Another man was charged in connection with the case on 18 April 2008, and remanded the same day.

On 16 December 2008, at the end of a nine-week trial in the Crown Court at Liverpool, Sean Mercer (a member of the Croxteth Crew gang) was found guilty of murder. Mercer, then aged 18, was sentenced to life imprisonment, being ordered to serve a minimum term of 22 years. Other gang members James Yates, Nathan Quinn, Boy "M", Gary Kays, and Melvin Coy were convicted of assisting an offender. Boy "K", later revealed as Dean Kelly, was convicted of four related offences. Kays and Coy were both sentenced to seven years.

In January 2009, Yates was sentenced to seven years, Dean Kelly to four years, and Nathan Quinn to two years. A 16-year-old was sentenced to a two-year supervision order. Parents of the gang members, including Mercer's mother and the parents of Yates, were later tried and convicted for perverting the course of justice.

On 28 October, Yates had his sentence increased to 12 years imprisonment, following a referral to the Court of Appeal by the Solicitor General Vera Baird QC as being "too lenient". On 2 November, Mercer stabbed Jake Fahri (Jimmy Mizen's murderer), apparently having crafted a knife from a pair of tweezers.


Residents in Jones' locality have said that there were many problems with anti-social behaviour; in reaction to this, Merseyside Police made the area around the pub into a "designated area", meaning that officers could disperse groups and move people away from the area. The police vehemently stressed that the murder was not gang-related. It is still not clear what the motive was, but a case of mistaken identity is being considered. Jones may have been caught in the crossfire between gangs.

Sean Mercer and the others convicted of involvement in the murder were known to be members of the Croxteth Crew, a criminal gang in Croxteth. The murder came the day before the first anniversary of the killing of Liam Smith, an alleged member of a rival gang, the Norris Green Strand Crew, who was shot dead by members of the Croxteth Crew as he walked out of Altcourse Prison on 23 August 2006. The youth gang phenomenon, and youth gangs of Liverpool in particular, drew high media attention after the murder.

Tributes and public reaction

Rhys Jones was a dedicated supporter of Everton FC, and had a season ticket along with his father and brother. Players of the team laid a floral tribute, football boots, and football shirts at the scene of the crime, and players and fans paid tribute to him in a minute-long applause at the home game against Blackburn Rovers on 25 August.

After a suggestion from Liverpool Echo columnist Tony Barrett, which was supported by many Echo readers, Everton rivals Liverpool FC agreed to play the beginning of the Z-Cars theme tune – the song that traditionally greets the arrival of the Everton team onto the Goodison Park pitch – prior to playing Liverpool's own theme ahead of their UEFA Champions League game with Toulouse FC on 28 August. This was followed by a period of applause; the Liverpool players and staff, Toulouse players, and match day officials wore black armbands during the game.

Over 2,500 mourners attended Jones' funeral, which was held in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on 6 September 2007. His family issued a public invitation for well-wishers to attend the service, where mourners were requested to wear bright clothes or football strips. During the service, Jones' father read a poem he had written for his son, and Everton footballer Alan Stubbs read from the Bible. After the service, there was a private burial.


Rhys Jones murderer stabs Jimmy Mizen killer in youth jail 'top dog' feud

By Graham Smith for MailOnline

November 4, 2009

The killer who murdered Rhys Jones plunged a makeshift knife into a fellow teenage murderer in a twisted bid to become 'top dog' in a youth jail.

Sean Mercer, 18, stabbed Jake Fahri, 19, four times in the back with a sharpened pair of tweezers during the attack in a prison exercise yard.

Fahri is serving 14 years for murdering London schoolboy Jimmy Mizen.

Mercer’s victim was rushed to hospital pouring with blood after the attack in the exercise yard at Moorland Young Offenders Institute in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

The DIY knife nearly killed Fahri and battling paramedics spent 30 minutes trying to save him.

He was helped by a fellow inmate who held Fahri as Mercer allegedly attacked him with the tweezers, which had been made into an improvised knife.

Killer Mercer was thrown into a segregation unit where he has already spent weeks after clashing with officers and governors.

Mercer - a one-time member of the Crocky Young Guns gang - was ordered to serve a minimum of 22 years for the murder of Rhys in Croxteth, Liverpool, in August 2007 after he shot him as he walked home from football practise. He denied murder and claimed he was at a friend’s home watching a DVD when Rhys was killed.

Fahri was sentenced for murder in March after he viciously hurled a glass bowl at schoolboy Jimmy in a bakery in southeast London. He bled to death in his brother’s arms after suffering an horrific neck injury.

An unnamed prisoner officer claimed the attack was an attempt by Mercer to prove he was 'top dog', it was reported.

The Prison Service said: 'A fight broke out between three prisoners. Staff acted quickly to control the situation.

'One prisoner was taken to a hospital for treatment. Police have been notified and are investigating.'

Fahri is recovering after being stabbed and back inside the youth jail.

Mercer was himself attacked by an inmate in HMP Moorland shortly after he received a life sentence last December. The assault was stopped by the 'timely intervention' of prison staff.

He was taken to hospital after the attack in the communal area of the prison, and was thought to have been left with a broken nose and facial injuries.

The murders of Rhys Jones and Jimmy Mizen both provoked national outrage, leading to calls for the Government to clamp down on gang culture and youth violence in general.

Gang member Mercer killed Rhys when he blasted three shots across a pub car park in Croxteth.

His targets were rival Strand Gang members who had arrived on his turf - but one of the shots hit innocent Rhys.

The 11-year-old schoolboy died in his mother Melanie's arms.

Mercer's mother Janette received a three-year jail sentence for denying all knowledge of the distinctive mountain bike her teenage son was riding when he shot Rhys.

Jimmy also died in his mother's arms. He bled to death in a baker's shop after Fahri slashed his throat in a trivial row in 'three minutes of absolute madness'.

Fahri was seen ‘grinning and swaggering’ as he left the scene after striking the teenager with a Pyrex dish, while Jimmy’s blood spurted over the shop assistants in a scene ‘like a horror film’.

Jimmy’s mother Margaret arrived soon after - and fainted when she saw her son’s life ebbing away as he was cradled in his older brother’s arms just a day after his 16th birthday.


Rhys Jones's parents' rage against gang culture being allowed to flourish

By Angella Johnson -

December 21, 2008

Even though in private she is wrestling with intense grief over her murdered 11-year-old son Rhys, in public Melanie Jones has always cut a quietly impressive figure.

She is a dignified woman who likes order and routine and is not given to displays of emotion with strangers.

She is an ordinary working mother, thrust by extraordinary and tragic circumstances into the public spotlight, but who, until now, has always tried to see the good in other people.

Melanie’s most urgent wish since the fateful day 16 months ago when her family was ripped apart has been that Rhys’s killer be caught and prosecuted.

The need for justice has sustained her during a long police investigation and an 11-week case at Liverpool Crown Court that led to the gunman, 18-year-old Sean Mercer, being sentenced last week to life in jail.

He must serve a minimum of 22 years before being eligible for parole.

It might have been a time for Melanie, 43, and her husband Stephen, 45, to feel a sense of satisfaction or at least relief. Instead, she is taken aback by the emotion that has gripped her.

‘On hearing the verdict, I felt this surge of hate for Mercer, so powerful that it shocked me,’ she says.

‘It was a feeling that I’ve never experienced before. I looked at him and he was blank, with no expression. I was shaking from the inside out, aware of everyone looking at us.

‘Then it hit me: I hated him, with every fibre of my being. Before then, I couldn’t allow myself to waste that energy on him. Suddenly it was as if a release valve had been opened.

'I realised that I will never forgive him for destroying our family.’

Stephen says of Mercer and the six other defendants – James Yates, 20, Gary Kays, 26, Melvin Coy, 25, Nathan Quinn, 18, Dean Kelly, 17, and a juvenile known as Boy M, who were found guilty of helping Mercer cover up his crime: ‘They give nothing, they just steal other people’s air.’

Rhys was felled by a single bullet to the neck as he strolled home in broad daylight from football training – an innocent victim caught in the mindless and indiscriminate crossfire of two gangs waging war around Croxteth Park, in Liverpool.

Despite the efforts of paramedics, the youngster bled to death in his mother’s arms after she had rushed to the scene.

In this, their first interview since the trial ended, Melanie and Stephen spoke to The Mail on Sunday from a country retreat in Cheshire, where they are staying with their older son Owen, 18.

An atmosphere of sorrow hangs over them all, even though they try bravely not to show it.

At 6ft2in Stephen stands a good foot taller than his wife and seems a protective figure. But this is very much a partnership of equals. There is no doubting the love and understanding between the pair.

They even, unconsciously, finish each other’s sentences. Melanie’s wide eyes, so reminiscent of her son’s, seem to glisten permanently with tears.

Immaculately dressed in a smart grey cardigan teamed with a neat black pencil skirt, she smiles frequently and even manages to laugh now and then, but the exhaustion and deep sense of loss is there for all to see.

She frequently clutches at a gold pendant round her neck which contains a miniature picture of Rhys.

‘The hardest thing I have had to do was watch my son being put in a hole in the ground,’ she says quietly. ‘I feel redundant as a mother . . . I lost my baby.’

Melanie explains that until the jury returned its verdicts, she never allowed herself to think about her son’s murderer.

‘We deliberately didn’t try to find out about him. We went to court every day because we wanted to find out about him ourselves. And now I just hate him.

I think he’s a feral thug who shows no remorse. The only downside is that one day he might actually be freed. For me, life should mean life. I would lock him away for ever.

‘He took life away from Rhys so he shouldn’t get one, but we have to accept the sentence.

I shall be 65 and about to retire by the time he gets out. Right now, it seems a long time, but it’s not. It will never compensate. We started serving our life sentence on the night that Rhys was taken away from us.’

Stephen adds: ‘He should never walk the streets again. But we don’t support the death penalty. It would make us as bad as them.’

The couple’s grief is still so raw that they could not bring themselves to share in any sense of victory over the convictions.

‘Friends and family rang afterwards, asking if they should come round, have a drink,’ says Melanie. ‘But we wanted to close the door and shut ourselves in.

‘The dark cloud hasn’t really lifted, it’s thickened. The reality is more stark. Up until now we’ve been clinging on to a rollercoaster, nothing has seemed real.

The only time we have any sense of peace is when we visit Rhys’s grave. We go three times each week. We talk to him about the football scores and nice things, or ask how he’s doing. We miss him so badly and feel close to him there.’

The summer’s day when unimaginable violence entered the Joneses’ quiet and unremarkable lives had begun for Melanie with the most mundane of family outings – taking the boys to the local dentist, then going to buy a new school tie for Rhys. Her younger son was excited about getting his new uniform, including a Nike sports kit, to start secondary school.

Melanie says: ‘We returned home about 4.30pm and had tea together as a family, as we usually did. Rhys ate something light because he was going training.

‘It was a really nice hot sunny day and he was looking forward to coming back home later and watching the England game with me and Owen. Stephen would be at work at Tesco, where he is a night manager.

Rhys left the house at 6.30pm but returned around ten minutes later because he had forgotten his subscription.

I drove him back and he gave me a kiss on the cheek and he said, 'See you later, Mum.' It was the last time he spoke to me.’

Melanie chokes back a sob. She cries easily these days. Then Stephen recalls his last memory of seeing his son alive.

‘I was sitting on the couch. Rhys came in panting, out of breath, and sat on the armrest. I was looking at him and thinking he needed to have a haircut. I was the one who usually did it.'

'He said, 'See you later' and off he trotted.'

'He was wearing a blue England kit and carried a JJB bag with his boots. They usually train for an hour but sometimes more. It was a structured time and I knew he would be safe.’

Melanie returned home from dropping Rhys off at the pitch and Stephen set off for work. ‘Owen was in his room and some time after 7.30 there was a knock on the door,’ she says.

‘It was one of Rhys’s coaches. As soon as I looked at him I knew something bad had happened. He was white as a sheet.

‘He said, 'You must come with me. Rhys has been shot.' I was in shock. I grabbed my phone and keys and jumped into his car.

We drove to the car park [at the Fir Tree pub]. It was a two-minute journey and we were there before I could even think about it.’

Nothing could have prepared her for the horror of the scene.

‘There were hundreds of people milling around,’ says Melanie. ‘I don’t think it had actually registered, what was meant by the words 'Rhys has been shot'. I thought maybe he had heard wrong. Still, my heart was pounding out of my chest and I was shaking.

‘There were six or seven people around Rhys who was lying on the ground. Someone said, 'It’s his mother, let her through.'

'Rhys was flat on his back, his eyes wide open. There was blood everywhere. Even pouring from his mouth. I just remember blood everywhere. It was horrendous.

‘I thought he was already gone. I dropped to the ground and gently lifted his head up and stroked his face. It seemed to take for ever for the ambulance to come.

'I said, 'Stay with me, baby, you’re going to be OK. Stay with me. It will be OK.'

‘I didn’t notice very much else, I just focused on Rhys. I knelt over him, pleading with him to hold on. He was lifeless, limp.

I don’t remember seeing any injury. His face was blank and his beautiful blue eyes were wide open as if he was looking at me, but there was nothing there.’

The ambulance arrived and paramedics struggled to try to revive him. ‘It was all a blur,’ says Melanie, who is now sobbing as she relives the moment she says haunts her waking hours and gives her nightmares.

The journey to the hospital was no more than ten minutes but it seemed to Melanie like an eternity.

At some point, before getting into the ambulance, she had called Stephen, who was on the M57.

‘I told him, 'Come back now, Rhys has been shot.'

Stephen says: ‘I assumed it was an air rifle. I tried to call Melanie back, but her phone was off. I didn’t know what was going on.’

Meanwhile at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, a frantic Melanie was alone.

‘My phone was dead,’ she says. ‘It had all my contact numbers. I could only remember the number of my friend Maria, so I called her using a paramedic’s phone. It was she who contacted the rest of the family.’

Some 20 minutes later, Stephen arrived. In his confusion, he had initially gone to the hospital nearest their home.

‘Melanie just kept saying, “They can’t resuscitate him.” She repeated it over and over. She was crying and really, really upset. I had never seen her like that before. She was totally distraught,’ he says.

‘I still didn’t know what had happened. I went in to see Rhys. He was on a stretcher, his kit was cut off. Several tubes were in his arm, body and mouth. I saw a jagged cut at the bottom of his throat.'

'There was so much blood that his blue kit had turned red. Blood was dripping on to the floor. It was horrific. Like a war scene. He looked pale, he was limp when they moved him and there was no sign of life.’

Listening intently and wringing her hands, Melanie starts crying uncontrollably. She dabs her face with a tissue from the packet she had put on the armchair of her sofa.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘I didn’t think that I would get this emotional, but I can’t help myself.’ Feeling her distress, the usually stoic Stephen succumbs as his eyes well up with tears.

He says: ‘They told us to stroke his feet and talk to him. I said, 'Come on, son, you are going to make it.' We were just desperately focused on his survival.’

Melanie adds: ‘I was just praying they could keep him alive – I didn’t care what state he was in. I just wanted him to stay alive.

'I know it was selfish of me but that’s how I felt. They were working on him for 90 minutes. They explained everything that they were doing up until the very end. We were hoping until the very last minute that they would succeed.’

After one final attempt, the doctors announced that Rhys’s heart wasn’t going to beat on its own.

'From then on Rhys was no longer ours,’ says Melanie.

‘He was a crime scene to be picked over by forensics people. We couldn’t touch him.’ They couldn’t even donate any organs, which she says ‘was something we really would have wanted to do’.

The grieving couple, and other family members who had by then arrived, were allowed to see Rhys lying in the bereavement suite only through a glass screen.

‘That was very hard,’ says Melanie. ‘I really didn’t want to leave him there. He was my baby. I wanted to take him home.’

Stephen adds: ‘He was covered in a white sheet. They couldn’t wash him or clean him. His hair was matted and covered in blood. You would have thought he was asleep apart from the blood.’

They returned home at about midnight in a daze. Melanie says she realised then that her white top was soaked in Rhys’s blood.

‘I became hysterical. I stripped all my clothes off and put them in the bin. Stephen and I went into Rhys’s room and sat on his bed holding each other. We wanted to feel close to him. We were a four-piece jigsaw and suddenly we were a piece short. And it’s never going to be the same.’

In the days that followed, Melanie, Stephen and Owen withdrew from the world.

‘Those early days are a total blur,’ Melanie says. ‘I was in a bad way. I wasn’t eating or drinking or sleeping. My family were worried about me. The GP came to the house and wanted to give me something to help me sleep. But I didn’t want anything kept from me or to be shielded.

‘I wanted to know what was going on. Nothing was going to make me feel any better. And I wanted to make decisions with a clear mind. Medication just keeps the emotions at bay without having to go through the pain.’

Melanie and Stephen realised from the outset that the loss of their son was something they would never come to terms with. They didn’t even want to try.

‘For months it was hard to remember that he was no longer physically with us,’ says Melanie.

‘I remember going shopping and putting Coco Pops cereal in the basket before realising that he was the only one who ate them. Or I would set the dinner table for four.’

Stephen recalls that because Rhys was small for his age, he would hold his hand when they went to watch his beloved Everton play.

‘The first couple of times that I went out after he had been killed I would instinctively put out my hand only to find there was nothing there,’ he says.

‘Or I would catch a glimpse of a child in an Everton top in the crowd and do a double take. You know he is not there but you find yourself looking for him, even in a crowded street.’

The couple have been inundated with letters of sympathy from all over the world.

Notes came from Gerry and Kate McCann, and Wayne Rooney and wife Coleen.

‘We’ve read them all and they help,’ says Melanie. ‘But despite all the support, in the end we were alone. No one can prepare you for what you go through. The coroner had warned us that everyone is different in the way they grieve.’

The couple thanked everyone, especially the people of Liverpool, for their support.

Melanie adds: ‘I learned to accept that while Steve was desperate to know what had happened and who was responsible, I just wanted my baby back. Sometimes he would be having a good day and I would just want to curl up in bed.

‘We have always been close. The relationship had been good before this happened. If it had not been we might not have survived such a tragedy. I know other couples have split up when faced with such a loss. We talk a lot and that helps.’

Indeed, the Joneses’ hard-working and loving family unit is a world away from the mindless thuggery that took their son’s life.

The couple, who both grew up in Liverpool, met in Tesco in 1982. Melanie was 17, on work experience, and Stephen was 19, an assistant on the deli counter.

Stephen rose up the ranks and Melanie, after leaving to do other part-time work while her children were young, returned as a cashier four years ago.

They are just an ordinary, hard-working, decent family. Melanie believes this is why so many people empathised with them.

‘It could have been anyone’s child who was killed that way,’ she says.

Both parents played active roles in the lives of their sons. This included spending chilly Sunday mornings watching football-mad Rhys compete in the junior league he loved.

Stephen says: ‘He probably wasn’t the best player but he had an amazing left foot – as good as any you’ve seen and because of that I thought he stood a chance of making it.

But in the months before Rhys’s death he had announced that he might want to be a policeman – though I suspect this was because he wanted to join the force’s football team.’

The family live on Croxteth Park, an estate of private houses sandwiched between the troubled housing estates of Norris Green and Croxteth, where the gangs roam.

Melanie arranged her work hours around the boys’ school times and meal times. She is proud of her parenting skills.

‘His mates used to call Rhys the clockman,’ she says.

‘At 6.30pm he knew always to clock in, and then after tea he’d go out and play again. On a school night he had to be back for 7.30. I made sure I always knew where he was and he’d always be home when I said.’

But it was probably this focus on work and family that kept the couple unaware of the dangerous gang culture lurking in the areas surrounding their home.

‘We heard of it on the telly and read the papers,’ says Melanie. ‘But I didn’t think for a second they were on our estate. We just didn’t feel it was an issue for us.

‘We were just normal, we just never imagined we would be caught up in it. Sitting in court, I’ve realised how widespread it is. You just don’t realise what you’re living next to and that’s frightening.’

Within days of the murder, rumours of the killer’s name were being whispered in estates and pubs around the city.

Stephen heard that the name had been painted on a wall and was being circulated in internet chat rooms.

He says: ‘We knew within the first week that someone had been fingered for shooting Rhys. We told friends and family not to tell us who it was.

‘As far as we were concerned it would only become a reality once the murderer had been charged.’

The couple made two emotional appeals for the killer to be found, the first the day after the murder.

Then they appeared on the BBC TV programme Crimewatch and directed their pleas to the mother of the gunman.

‘The police knew it was a young person who would have done it,’ says Melanie.

‘A parent would have noticed that person acting strangely afterwards. I thought that a parent would have realised the pain we were going through and come forward. I felt sure they would do the right thing and bring him in.’

Stephen says: ‘It took police eight months to build up a strong enough case, with the help of undercover probes and an unnamed gang member who was offered immunity. Only then did we find out it was Sean Mercer.’

Melanie’s anger is directed not just at Mercer and the six members of his gang. She is also critical of those parents who failed to come forward with information.

‘They put us through hell by dragging it out and that is unforgivable,’ she says. ‘If they had come forward we wouldn’t have had to wait so long. They prolonged the torture for us.’

Stephen clearly shares her outrage. ‘Quite a few people said to me that they would not have needed an appeal to bring their children to the police station,’ he says. ‘But these are the kinds of people we know.

‘The families of those who committed this crime are outside our realm of understanding.’

The couple were surprised when they first saw the baby-faced killer on the day he appeared in the magistrates’ court after being charged.

‘I couldn’t believe how young he looked,’ says Melanie. ‘I was crying and shaking, I was really upset being so close to him. He didn’t even have the guts to look at us. He was only 16 at the time. Same as our Owen.

‘A child killing another child. What does that say about our society? Where were the parents? What were they doing?’

She says that some of the police secret recordings of conversations in the homes of the gangs, which helped to build the case against them, had offered a shocking insight into the area’s violence.

‘Hearing how the parents and kids speak to each other, you think there is no respect – on both sides. This is so far away from our life that I can’t comprehend it. I don’t know what the answer is.

'You can talk about needing community centres and schools getting involved but the buck has to stop with the parents,’ Melanie says.

‘They are the ones that need the lessons. We can’t keep making excuses that people are born into poverty.

'Lots of people are poor but they don’t all end up as criminals. Parents must take responsibility for their children and what they do. And I think the sentences for carrying guns should be much higher.’

For the past year the Joneses have continued to live in their three-bedroom semi-detached house, filled with memories of happy times with Rhys. It has been their sanctuary.

A safe place away from the feral element with which they have become entwined. But now they say they have been forced to leave their home after 17 years because they can’t bear to be so close to the place where their son was slain.

Melanie says: ‘We would never have thought about leaving before this happened. We love where we live – it’s like a little oasis.

We have good friends and we are near our family, but everything here is a reminder of that day. I cannot turn right when I leave the street because it leads to the spot where Rhys died.
And we don’t want to run the risk of bumping into the families of any of those linked to the murder.

‘For us this is the end of a chapter and we feel we are standing alone again. The trial had kept me going, just like the funeral did and one thing after another since Rhys died. But now I feel exhausted, in a void.

All those people who stood around us; the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and family liaison officers, are gone. We’ve lost the network and we now need to learn how to stand alone.

‘We will never forget Rhys and he will remain a part of this family in our hearts. We have to readjust to being just the three of us and gather strength again to rebuild our lives.’


Judge condemns brutal gang culture which caused Rhys' death

A judge condemned Britain's "stupid, brutal" gang culture as he jailed the teenage killer of schoolboy Rhys Jones for at least 22 years.

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 17, 2008

Mr Justice Stephen Irwin poured scorn on the pretensions of Sean Mercer and his gang to be urban "soldiers" who commanded "respect" in their local community.

In reality, he said, Mercer, 18, was a coward who had intended to kill two rival gangsters so long as he could do so "without getting too close to them" and putting himself "at any risk."

Mercer shot 11-year-old Rhys as the schoolboy walked home from football training in August last year. As Rhys lay dying, he fled from the scene in Croxteth Park, Liverpool, and with the help of six accomplices systematically set about destroying evidence.

Despite Mercer's involvement being well known, the agony of Rhys Jones's family was prolonged as the Croxteth Crew, the gang to which Mercer belonged, closed ranks around him.

Mercer, who has never shown any remorse for gunning down the innocent schoolboy, merely pursed his lips at being told he would be almost 40 by the time he is even considered for parole following his conviction for murder at Liverpool Crown Court.

Mr Justice Irwin branded Mercer a "coward" and launched an impassioned attack on the gang culture which lay behind the shooting.

He said: "It is wrong to let anyone glorify or romanticise this kind of gang conflict. You are not soldiers. You have no discipline, no training, no honour. You do not command respect. You may think you do, but that is because you cannot tell the difference between respect and fear. You are selfish, shallow criminals, remarkable only by the danger you pose to others."

Rhys's mother Melanie Jones buried her face in her husband Stephen's shoulder and wept as the verdicts were read out.

Mr Jones later said he was satisfied that justice had been done, adding: "This is not the final chapter in this tragedy but now at least we can begin the challenge of rebuilding our lives."

Mercer had been aiming to kill members of the Strand Gang, from Norris Green estate, who had dared to set foot on the Croxteth Crew's "turf" when Rhys walked into his line of fire.

Despite seeing the schoolboy collapse after being hit in the neck, Mercer was unmoved, and fired another shot before pedalling away on his bike.

The gang had such little regard for human life that Mercer had no difficulty finding willing accomplices to help him dispose of the evidence, none of whom gave a second thought for the innocent child who lay dead.

The six other gang members found guilty of assisting an offender were Gary Kays, 26, Melvin Coy, 25, James Yates, 20, Nathan Quinn, 18, Dean Kelly, 17, who was referred to as Boy K during the trial, and Boy M, 16, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Kays and Coy were both jailed for seven years. The rest of the gang will be sentenced at a later date.

Quinn is already serving five years for gun-related offences.

Praising the dignity of the Jones family, who attended every day of the 10-week trial, the judge said their composure had served as "a standing reproach" to Mercer and his fellow gangsters.

However, their silent attendance concealed "searing emotions we can guess at but which those of us who have not lost a child can hardly full understand", he said.


Rhys Jones murder: how justice finally caught up with Sean Mercer

With his socks rolled down and knees muddied after football training, Rhys Jones was almost certainly thinking ahead to his team's first match of the season as he walked home on the evening of August 22, 2007.

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 17, 2008

The Fir Tree Under-12s had high hopes for Rhys, one of their star players, who had, once again, performed heroics as he kept goal that night in his treasured England shirt.

Rhys probably hadn't noticed the groups of hooded teenagers who had started to congregate in a car park next to the pitch toward the end of the training session, and if he had, he was too innocent to think it might mean trouble.

Despite Mercer’s involvement being well known, the agony of Rhys Jones’ family was prolonged as the Croxteth Crew, the gang to which Mercer belonged, closed ranks around him.

The hard-working, aspirational Jones family had moved to the middle-class Croxteth Park estate precisely to get Rhys and his older brother Owen away from the sort of gang violence which was blighting other parts of Liverpool.

But one of the gangs, the Croxteth Crew, based on a neighbouring council estate, had decided Croxteth Park was part of their "turf", and as Rhys walked home that night he was just moments away from being caught in the crossfire of the Crew's deadly rivalry with the Strand Gang, based on the nearby Norris Green estate.

Sean Mercer, 16, arrived in the car park of the Fir Tree pub, a Smith & Wesson revolver concealed beneath his clothes, just as Rhys was crossing it at 7.28pm.

Mercer, a member of the Croxteth Crew, had been told that members of the Strand Gang had dared to stray into Croxteth Park, and he was, no doubt, determined to "prove" himself to older gang members by shooting their rivals. Significantly, perhaps, the date was just one day short of the anniversary of the murder of a member of the Croxteth Crew by the Strand Gang.

His primary target was Wayne Brady, 20, who was not only part of the Strand Gang but who had also had the temerity to date Vicki Smart, a former Miss England contestant who lived near Mercer in Croxteth. The gang members had forced Miss Smart to break off her relationship with Brady by shooting at her home. But on the day of the attack, she had agreed to meet Brady behind the Fir Tree pub.

Mercer couldn't see Brady when he arrived, so instead he arbitrarily set his sights on two other Strand Gang members, Kevin Davies, 19, and a youth, who were circling the car park on their bikes.

Taking up a gunman's stance astride his BMX, he took aim with both arms outstretched, and pulled the trigger of the First World War vintage revolver, hitting the side window of a BMW 20 yards away. The two targets fled on their bikes and Mercer tracked them with his gun.

Mercer had such little regard for human life that he didn't think twice about opening fire again when Rhys Jones came into his line of fire.

His second shot hit Rhys in the neck, but even the sight of the schoolboy crumpling to the ground did not deter Mercer from firing a third time before he turned and fled, to set about disposing of the evidence.

Sharon Lynch, 48, who witnessed the shooting, said: "I ran to help (Rhys). His eyes were open, staring out. He wasn't blinking. He didn't make any sound."

Rhys's mother Melanie Jones, 44, was at home when one of her son's football coaches arrived to say Rhys had been shot. She was in "total shock" as he drove her to the car park.

Once there she cradled Rhys in her arms as the paramedics worked around her, trying desperately to staunch the flow of blood. She went with her son as an ambulance rushed him to Alder Hey Children's Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

When Rhys's parents went to see their son's body, a member of staff had bought an Everton FC duvet cover and pillow for him. "It didn't seem real," said Mrs Jones. "He looked like he was just tucked up in his bed at home."

Many of Rhys's idols from his beloved Everton attended his funeral, where mourners wore football shirts at the family's request and Rhys was carried in a coffin covered in his team's colours.

For months afterwards, Mr and Mrs Jones would go into their son's bedroom, draw the curtains and sit quietly together on his bed.

Everything before them was as it had been on the day he died: his new school uniform in the wardrobe, regulation black shoes and new trainers unused in their boxes, and elsewhere the pens and pencils he would have needed on his first day at Fazakerley High.

Rhys's favourite cuddly toy was there too. Earlier in the summer his parents had tried to prise it away from him now he was 11 and leaving Broad Square Primary to go to "big school", but he would have none of it.

"He just wouldn't let it go," said Mr Jones, 45, the night manager of a Liverpool superstore. "He'd had it that long he wouldn't let us throw it out and it's still sat on his bed."

Another memento of Rhys's obsession with football was a pile of odd socks found on top of his wardrobe.

"He would take his socks off when he got home from school, roll them into a ball and play football in his room," said Mr Jones.

"When he kicked them against the wall, they'd end up on top of his wardrobe and he was too small to reach up and get them down."

Meanwhile the police investigation seemed to be going nowhere. Even though a dozen or more people had witnessed the shooting, in broad daylight, the police struggled to find anyone willing to give a statement identifying the killer.

Despite hearing Mercer's name repeatedly whispered on the streets, detectives were hit with a wall of silence from residents who feared that they would become the gang's next target if they dared to speak to police on the record.

Although Mercer was arrested within three days, he had to be released again and it would take another eight months before he was finally charged.

Mercer had been meticulous in covering his tracks.

By the time Mrs Jones had reached her dying son in the pub car park on the night of the murder, Mercer had reached the home of a fellow gangster, Boy M, where he began the cover-up operation he thought would save him from a life sentence.

His first priority was to hide the murder weapon. Barely 20 minutes after the murder, he rang Boy X, a 17-year-old he knew was frightened of him and whom he reasoned police would never suspect, as he had no criminal record.

His stooge duly arrived in a taxi and was handed the gun in a red and white carrier bag with orders to hide what was inside.

With the gun disposed of, Mercer turned his mind to other evidence that might link him to the murder: his £400 bike, his hoodie, trainers and tracksuit trousers, and any forensic debris from the revolver.

The bike could be stripped down and abandoned later. His clothes were a different matter. Mercer organised a new set to be brought to him, and at around 8.30pm he and his gang set off for a lock-up garage in Kirkby.

Once there they burned the incriminating clothing and washed Mercer with petrol to remove any telltale traces of gunshot residue. Shortly after 9pm he was on his way home.

As police struggled for a breakthrough in the following weeks, the Jones family - aware that Mercer was the prime suspect - pleaded for the killer to give himself up, partly through a series of appeals before football matches at Everton's Goodison Park.

Slowly the police began to make progress. A breakthrough came when the gun was found in Boy X's house during a search and he was arrested as a suspect.

Detectives quickly realized he had been set up by Mercer and spent months persuading him to give evidence in return for a new home and a new identity under the witness protection programme.

Police also gathered crucial evidence using hidden bugging devices, recording the gang incriminating themselves as they discussed the murder in private.

On April 15 this year, Mercer and his six co-conspirators were arrested in a series of dawn raids. Mercer refused to admit any part in the murder, and to this day he has shown no remorse for the death of Rhys Jones.

Mr and Mrs Jones forced themselves to attend court for every day of Mercer's trial, determined to see their nightmare through to its conclusion.

Only once did Melanie Jones flee the courtroom, unable to bear the eight-second CCTV clip she knew would end with her son lying crumpled on the ground.

After seeing Mercer jailed for a minimum of 22 years, Mrs Jones buried her head in her husband's shoulder and wept.

"Finally," said Mr Jones, "justice has been done for Rhys."


Rhys Jones murder: Sean Mercer was no stranger to police

Sean Mercer was no stranger to the police when he murdered Rhys Jones, having been stopped by beat officers 80 times in the previous two years.

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 17, 2008

But, like fellow members of the Croxteth Crew gang, he had come to believe he was above the law, and showed utter contempt for anyone who got in his way.

The scrawny killer, nicknamed Beaver, had joined the gang in his early teens, and was determined to rise rapidly through the ranks of a group who liked to see themselves as “soldiers”.

Police believe he regarded murdering a member of the rival Strand Gang as a rite of passage which would impress older gang members.

In his twisted mind, taking a life would make him a major player; someone who would command instant “respect”.

Hence he wasn’t choosy when it came to selecting his target on August 22, 2007. Any member of the Strand Gang would do.

The fact that he killed an 11-year-old schoolboy instead seems to have made little impression on him – he has never shown any remorse, never admitted his crime and showed that his sole instinct after the murder was self-preservation.

Mercer had one previous conviction by the time of Rhys’s murder, for possessing a CS gas canister police found in his home, but had been allowed to walk free from court. Eight months after killing Rhys he was caught with cannabis and given a three-month conditional discharge.

At the time of the murder Mercer, then 16, was subject to an anti-social behaviour order imposed because he and some of his friends had been terrorising staff at a local sports centre.

At one stage they threatened to set fire to a security guard’s jacket and to “get a knife”.

Police knew enough about him to realise he had the potential to become a major threat, but until the murder he was regarded as just another young thug to keep an eye on.


Rhys Jones: Teenager who shot 11-year-old convicted of murder

Sean Mercer, the teenager who shot 11-year-old Rhys Jones as he wandered into the line of fire between rival street gangs in Liverpool, has been convicted of murder.

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 16, 2008

Mercer, 18, was found guilty at the end of an eight-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

Mercer, a leading figure in the so-called Croxteth Crew, a notorious east Liverpool street gang, now faces a life behind bars.

The teenage killer was still only 16 when he carried out the killing of Rhys Jones in a pub car park in Croxteth Park on August 22, 2007.

He was also the subject of an ongoing ASBO (anti-social behaviour order) – imposed because he had terrified staff at a sports centre near his home.

Mercer was such a well-known troublemaker that police had stopped him 80 times in the previous two years.

The killer briefly bowed his head as the court verdict was delivered. Then, just before being led away from the dock, he embraced one of his fellow gangsters and clasped the hands of two others in an apparent show of solidarity.

Across the courtroom the mother of Rhys Jones, Melanie Jones, 43, burst into tears, clutching at a gold locket around her neck which bore a photograph of her son. She later slumped onto the shoulder of her husband, Stephen Jones, 45.

The court heard that Rhys died entirely by accident. Mercer’s intended targets had been two members of the rival Strand Gang who had ventured onto what he regarded as his “turf”.

But the second of the three bullets he fired from a First World War Smith and Wesson missed them and instead struck Rhys in the neck as he walked home from a training session with his local Under-12s football team.

The youngster, who had been due to start secondary school less than a fortnight later, was knocked to the ground by the impact.

Shocked onlookers quickly summoned his mother, Melanie, and she arrived in time to cradle him in her arms. He was pronounced dead in hospital just over an hour later.

Mercer tried to avoid capture by destroying evidence and persuading fellow members of his gang to give him an alibi.

The plan failed because Merseyside Police managed to “turn” the teenager he had frightened into hiding the murder weapon – and because undercover officers planted listening devices in two of his accomplices’ homes.

Neil Flewitt, QC, prosecuting, said the “appalling” murder had been borne out of a long-running feud between the Croxteth Crew and the Strand Gang from neighbouring Norris Green.

The feud erupted in 2004 and was characterized by tit-for-tat assaults and skirmishes with guns.

On the evening Rhys died Mercer had received word that Wayne Brady, a leading member of the rival Strand Gang, was on Croxteth Crew “turf”.

He collected the revolver from a fellow gangster, James Yates, and cycled to the Fir Tree pub, Croxteth Park, on his distinctive silver mountain bike.

Once there he saw no sign of Brady but instead took aim at two of the gangster’s henchmen, Kevin Davies, 19, and a juvenile who cannot be named.

Rhys was in the car park entirely by chance, having turned down the offer of a lift and set off on the 500 yard walk home.

The `ping’ of the first bullet distracted him, and as he looked to one side he was hit by the second.

Mercer, of Good Shepherd Close, Croxteth, immediately cycled away at high speed. A short time later he told another member of his gang: “I seen a kid go down.”

The jury found him guilty of murder on Monday. However, a legal order meant the conviction could not be reported until all other verdicts in the trial had been returned.


Rhys Jones: Timeline of events

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 16, 2008

The murder of Rhys Jones, shot as he walked back from football practice in August 2007, links back to gang warfare in Liverpool. Here is a timeline of events:

August 22 - 19:08: Mercer is at a friend's house when Kays rings to say that Brady and two other members of the Strand Gang are near the Fir Tree. The killer collects the gun from Yates and sets off to confront his rivals.

19.28: Mercer arrives at the Fir Tree car park and fires three shots. Rhys Jones is hit by the second of these and a few moments later his killer flees the scene.

19.35: Mercer reaches the home of Boy M and begins summoning other gang members, including Yates, Quinn and Boy K, who can now be identified as Dean Kelly.

19.49: Mercer uses Boy M's mobile to summon Boy X so he can collect and hide the gun.

19.51: Boy X rings City Cabs to order a taxi.

20.06: Boy X collects the gun and climbs back into the taxi to return home.

20.11: Boy X rings Boy M's mobile to say "I'm home". Boy M, in a reference to Mercer, replies: "He's not here."

20.30: Mercer, Yates, Quinn, Coy and Kays head out to Kirkby to burn the killer's clothes and remove any traces of gunshot residue. Mercer's bike is also stripped and abandoned nearby.

20.46: Rhys Jones is declared dead at Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

August 23 - 19:00: A passer-by finds Mercer's bike and takes it home, hoping to renovate it. Six months later the man recognizes it in a police appeal and rings police. A forensic expert verifies that it carries traces of Mercer's DNA.

August 25: Mercer is among a number of teenagers arrested and bailed. Some will later give evidence against him.

September 30: Police find the gun in Boy X's loft.

April 4, 2008: The Director of Public Prosecutions gives Boy X immunity, clearing the way for him to become a prosecution witness.

April 15, 2008: Sean Mercer is charged with murder.


Rhys Jones: Profile of gun killer Sean Mercer

The murderer of Rhys Jones, Sean Mercer, was a convict stopped more than 80 times on the street by police, and on an ASBO on the day he killed the 11-year-old.

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 16, 2008

He had intended to shoot a rival gang member and, if he had succeeded, Mercer might have been propelled into the transient folklore of Liverpool's notorious gang culture.

Instead, one of three bullets he fired at two rival gangsters killed Rhys Jones and condemned Mercer himself to the level of notoriety that not even he could have imagined.

He would say later that he saw "a kid go down", but he didn't care. All he cared about was saving his own skin. He and his gang tried to destroy the evidence against him, and they struck fear into the minds of those they involved in the cover-up.

On the day of the murder Mercer, then 16, was subject to an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order), imposed because he and some of his friends – including one referred to only as Boy K previously but who can now be named as Dean Kelly, 17 – had been terrorising staff at a local sports centre.

At one stage they threatened to set fire to a security guard's jacket and to "get a knife".

The previous year Mercer had been convicted of possessing a CS gas canister police had found in his home. Eight months after killing Rhys he was caught with cannabis and given a three-month conditional discharge.

The scrawny killer, nicknamed Beaver, had joined the gang in his early teens, but was beginning to rise rapidly through the ranks.

Police knew enough about him to realise he had the potential to become a major player, but until the murder he was just another young thug to keep an eye on.

Officers used anti-social behaviour powers to stop him in the street no less than 80 times between the ages of 14 and 16. On 15 of these occasions he was with two Croccy Head leaders who were later jailed for the murder of a Nogga Dog.

His main ally within the gang appears to have been Boy K, the pair of them generally referred to in MSN chatrooms as The Boys.

Detectives are still unclear about Mercer's motive for opening fire that day – not least because the killer has always refused to speak to them.

However, the shooting is most likely to have been "a rite of passage", in which Mercer seized the opportunity to "prove" himself to his fellow gangsters and the younger wannabes who hung around them.

There was, though, a secondary motive: the long-standing personal grudge Mercer harboured against Wayne Brady, a prominent member of the rival Nogga Dogs gang.

This went back to the days they shared at De La Salle Secondary School, but was compounded by the fact that Brady had been dating Vicki Smart, a model and one-time Miss England contestant, who lived near Mercer's home in Croxteth.

In Mercer's mind Miss Smart, now 19, should have been out of bounds to a Nogga Dog, and it was well known among his gang that one day he was "gonna get" his rival.

Brady, 20, had been shot at twice before by his gangland rivals, but despite this had strayed onto their "turf" the day Rhys died.

Local sources suggest the killer had played a prominent role in the attacks on Brady. However, police were never able to prove this was so.

They learned only after his arrest that two months before Rhys's murder he had ridden through Norris Green on a motorbike, waving a gun as he chased a group of Nogga Dogs.

Mercer stuck to the gangsters' code of silence when detectives arrested him, and in court, too, he refused to speak beyond entering his plea of not guilty.

But beyond the bravado, he will never shake off the fear that gripped him the day a crucial witness refused point-blank to support his alibi.


Rhys Jones: Portraits of killer Sean Mercer's accomplices

The gun killer of Rhys Jones, Sean Mercer, had a gang of accomplices who were involved with the crime or helped him try to conceal his involvement.

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 16, 2008

James Yates, 20, has been a gangster since his early teens and used his own cash to buy the Rhys Jones murder weapon three years ago.

He is so hated by the rival Strand Gang that in 2005 a group of them attacked him with a wheel brace while he was in his father’s car.

The image of James `Yatzy` Yates as a hard man crumbled when fellow inmates at HMP Altcourse, where he was held on remand, taunted him with shouts of `Baby Killer.`

He immediately requested `vulnerable prisoner` status and was “teary” when telling a prison officer he feared reprisals against his family.

Nathan “Naydog” Quinn, 18, was already serving a five-year sentence before the trial began.

In April another jury at Liverpool Crown Court found him guilty of trying to buy a pistol and ammunition from an underworld dealer.

Quinn is thought to have signed up to the Croxteth Crew when he was only 11. Three years later he spent two days in hospital after rival gangsters targeted him in a drive-by shooting.

He refused to speak to police about the attack and still carries the pellets as trophies in his body. His mother, Marie, was among those who tried to persuade other witnesses to change their evidence ahead of the Rhys Jones trial.

Gary Kays, 25, who has a £500-a-week job with his father’s joinery business, set in motion the sequence of events that would lead to Rhys Jones’s murder.

A minute after being told that Wayne Brady, a prominent member of the Strand Gang, was on Croxteth Crew “turf,” he passed the news on to Mercer.

As Rhys lay dying in the Fir Tree car park CCTV captured Kays’ leased Audi Q7 driving past.

Kays, who 10 years ago was convicted of dangerous driving and driving without insurance, later helped ferry the gang to a lock-up so they could dispose of evidence.

Melvin Coy, a 25-year-old welder, was prominent in helping Mercer to cover his tracks.

He was with his friend, Gary Kays, when they were called in to deal with the aftermath of the shooting.

Coy used his Ford Galaxy to drive the young gangsters to his lock-up in Kirkby, and back to Croxteth again once Mercer had been doused in petrol and his clothes burned to prevent police finding traces of gunshot residue.

Boy K

Boy K, 16, who can now be named as Dean Kelly - after a court order was lifted - was Mercer’s best friend in the gang, with the two of them being referred to in MSN chat rooms as The Boys.

Kelly was with Mercer when he repeatedly terrorised staff and security guards at Croxteth Sports Centre.

At one stage the two teenage gangsters threatened to set fire to a security guard’s jacket and to “get a knife”.

Kelly, nicknamed The Belly because of his girth, was still the subject of a three-year anti social behaviour order on the day of the murder.

Before joining Mercer in the dock he had admitted a separate offence of illegally possessing a shotgun.

Boy M, 16, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claimed he had only taken part in the cover-up because he was “terrified” of what Mercer and the rest of the gang would do to him if he refused.

But the court heard damning surveillance tapes of him launching foul-mouthed tirades in his home, as he tried to force both his mother and grandmother to change the accounts they had given police.

Boy M, once a promising footballer, was allowed to be absent from the dock while his relatives gave their evidence against Mercer.

His mother claimed the teenager – who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - was in total fear of Mercer, and terrified, too, about “what will happen to him after this trial”.


Rhys Jones: Shot dead as he walked home from football practice in Liverpool

Rhys Jones was shot dead, on a warm summer's evening in Liverpool, as he walked home from a pre-season football practice session for his local Fir Tree Under 12s team.

By Nigel Bunyan -

December 16, 2008

As the session drew to a close, standing in goal in his beloved England jersey, Rhys Jones, one of the team's star players, may or may not have noticed the groups of hooded teenagers milling about near the pitch.

They wouldn't have meant much to him anyway. All he lived for was football, and as his father, Stephen, would later observe, he had no idea what a gang was let alone that they might carry guns.

By now Sean Mercer, then 16, a member of the so-called Croxteth Crew, had collected the Smith and Wesson that would end Rhys' life and was cycling at speed towards the Fir Tree pub.

Two other teenagers were also on bikes: both members of the rival Strand Gang who had dared to venture onto Mercer's "turf", both slowly circling the pub car park.

Mercer's main target, Wayne Brady, another gangland rival for whom there was the added aggravation of a personal grudge, was a short distance away but out of sight, talking to an ex-girlfriend.

A dozen or more locals, most of them there in readiness for the televised match between England and Germany, were enjoying a drink on the benches in front of the pub.

Any one of them might have noticed Rhys, the "mad keen Evertonian", his knees muddy, socks rolled down, approaching from the far corner of the car park.

None of them could have imagined that an entirely innocent young boy was about to be murdered.

In the evening sunshine Mercer raced past two boys playing in a tree before slewing to a halt at the side of the pub. In an instant he had taken up a gunman's stance astride his mountain bike, taken aim with both arms outstretched, and opened fire.

The first bullet from his First World War Smith and Wesson revolver shattered the rear quarter-light of a BMW 20 yards away.

Rhys probably heard the `ping`, immediately followed by the sound of breaking glass.

He paused and began to glance behind him, never knowing that in doing so he had put himself in the line of fire directed by Mercer.

Two seconds later, at 7.28pm, a second shot rang out and he was knocked to the ground. A CCTV camera caught the moment with such devastating clarity it was obvious the little boy would never get up again.

Mercer knew too. "I saw a kid go down," he would tell a member of his gang a few minutes later.

But his only concern, even then, was to avoid being caught. He cycled away at speed, nearly crashing as he stuffed the revolver out of sight into his jacket pocket.

Some of the onlookers thought they had heard a cap gun, others a burst of fireworks. Sharon Lynch, 48, knew differently.

She had seen Mercer take aim, and then seen Rhys crumple to the ground.

"I ran to help him," she recalled. "His eyes were open staring out. He wasn't blinking. He didn't make any sound.

"I put him in the recovery position and opened his mouth to feel for obstructions. I saw a wound to his neck. It was a teardrop shape."

One of the boys in the tree had played football against Rhys. "We ran up but someone said `Don't look, don't look at him.` My friend started crying. He was saying `No, no, no`."

Melanie Jones, 44, was at home when one of her son's coaches arrived to say her son had been shot. She was in "total shock" as he drove her to the car park.

Once there she cradled Rhys in her arms as the paramedics worked around her, trying desperately to staunch the flow of blood. She went with her son as an ambulance rushed him to Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

Mrs Jones had reached the Fir Tree at about the same time Mercer was pulling up outside the home of a fellow gangster, Boy M.

Once ushered into M's bedroom he set in motion the cover-up operation he thought would save him from a life sentence.

His first priority was to hide the murder weapon. Barely 20 minutes after the murder, he rang Boy X, a teenager he knew was frightened of him and whom he reasoned police would never suspect.

His stooge duly arrived in a taxi and was handed the gun in a red and white carrier bag with orders to hide what was inside.

With the gun disposed of, Mercer turned his mind to other evidence that might link him to the murder: his £400 bike, his hoodie, trainers and tracksuit trousers, and any forensic debris from the revolver.

The bike could be stripped down and abandoned later. His clothes were a different matter. Mercer organised a new set to be brought to him, and at around 8.30pm he and his gang set off for a lock-up garage in Kirkby.

Once there they burned the incriminating clothing and washed Mercer with petrol to remove any telltale traces of gunshot residue.

Shortly after 9pm they climbed back into Melvin Coy's Ford Galaxy for the journey home.

By then a doctor had already walked into a side room at Alder Hey to break the news to Rhys Jones' parents that their son was dead.


Police arrest a third teenager in relation to the murder of Rhys Jones

August 24, 2007

A 16-year-old teenager has been arrested over the murder of Rhys Jones, police said tonight.

Officers arrested the youth from the local area this afternoon and he is being questioned on suspicion of murder.

The arrest comes after a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old were released on bail yesterday.

A police spokesman also confirmed that an abandoned bicycle had been found in Liverpool, in an area with a different postcode from the shooting, which was being examined.

Officers also confirmed descriptions of the killer's firearm, describing it as a black handgun with a long barrel.

Speaking after the latest arrest was made public, a police source said: "Rhys was not involved in any form of gang.

"We are categorising this as a Category A-plus homicide, the most serious investigation to take on.

"We have made some arrests but this could be a protracted investigation. Another arrest was made today but further inquiries are ongoing and further arrests possible.

"We're at a very early stage. The 16-year-old boy was arrested this afternoon in the local area and held on suspicion of murder as part of the ongoing investigation.

"The murder weapon is described variously by witnesses as a black handgun with a long barrel.

"We don't know what the motive was.

"We are looking into the background of the football match but keeping a completely open mind."

The developments come after Rhys's parents this afternoon delivered a bouquet of flowers to a spot marking their son's death.

Rhys's father Stephen and mother Melanie Jones today laid a simple bouquet of blue roses and gerberas at the car park of the Fir Tree pub in Croxteth where Rhys died.

The flowers carried a message which read: "Goodnight and God bless son, till we meet again. All our love and kisses, from mum, dad and Owen."

The family arrived at the scene after a Liverpool City council director said there was a small minority of children in Croxteth who were "wannabe" gangsters.

Stuart Smith, executive director of children's services, said some of the children in Croxteth were attracted to a gang lifestyle which they viewed as "glamorous".

More than 300 police officers and gun crime specialists are hunting for the killer of 11-year-old Rhys.

The massive scale of the operation emerged today as detectives said the person they are looking for could be as young as 13.

He was described as a slim white boy around 5ft 8ins tall. He was riding a black BMX bike and was wearing dark clothes, including a hooded top with a peak, and white trainers.

A witness today said the boy was carrying a 'big handgun' when he rode up to where Rhys was having a kick about with friends in the car park of the Fir Tree pub in Croxteth, Liverpool, on Wednesday evening.

The killer held the gun in both hands and fired three shots, one of which hit Rhys in the back of the neck.

Rhys's mother Melanie, 41, who cradled him as he died, and father Stephen pleaded for information to find the youth.

Wiping away tears, 41-year-old Mrs Jones said: "Someone knows who did it and I know people must be frightened, but please come forward.

"It could be their son, their brother next time because it will happen again if he is not caught."

In a direct appeal to the killer, she pleaded: "Give yourself up."

Conservative leader David Cameron today called for the creation of a 'social covenant' saying Rhys's death should not just be allowed to become "another testimony of despair".

Many residents on the Croxteth Park Estate, which was formerly the biggest private housing estate in western Europe, have spoken about living increasingly in the shadow of gun crime.

One man said Rhys was walking across the car park when a gunman cycled down a path on the other side of the pub.

"He just stopped and straddled the bike and shot through the car first, then another two shots. It's just callous how he did it.

"My mate was stood outside and he said it could have been anyone but it looked like he aimed at the lad. It was a handgun, a big handgun."

Mr Jones, a 44-year-old retail manager with Tesco, said: "We are devastated, we have lost our world, the world has lost a good guy.

"It's just horrendous - it's just your worst nightmare."

Everton FC manager David Moyes and club captain Phil Neville have joined the appeal for information following the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones.

The football-mad youngster, who was shot dead in Croxteth, Liverpool, was an Everton season ticket holder along with his father Stephen, 44, and brother, Owen, 17.

As a mark of respect, the club's players will wear black armbands and 40,000 fans will hold a minute's silence ahead of Saturday's home game with Blackburn at Goodison Park.

Mr Moyes said: "I would ask anybody who has any idea at all about the shooting to come forward.

"This is a terrific city and everybody here is desperate the find out who did this.

"Nobody deserves to lose their 11-year-old son, and anyone who knows anything about this should get in touch with the police right way.

"It is something we are all bitterly saddened about, we feel so much for the family, and this needs to be sorted out quickly. It is something that should not be allowed to happen in this city."

Mr Neville added: "Everyone at Everton, and the players especially, send our condolences to the Jones family after the tragic death of their son Rhys.

"We all here at the club have families of our own, and we cannot comprehend what you are going through. We appeal to anyone with information to contact the police."

Stephen Jones said he felt his son would still want him to go to the game on Saturday. His mother Melanie said she could not go because she would not be able to face looking at his empty seat.

Rhys was shot dead at 7.30 on Wednesday night in broad daylight by a teenager wearing a hoodie and riding a BMX bike in the car park of the Fir Tree pub.

He was on his way home after a soccer training session. Police last night released on bail two teenagers, aged 14 and 18, who were arrested earlier yesterday.

They refused to speculate on the motive for what Prime Minister Gordon Brown called as a "heinous crime."

But for his parents the motive meant little as they struggled to come to terms with a moment of gun madness that has devastated them and their older son Owen, 17.

Mrs Jones told how one of her son's soccer coaches knocked at her door and said Rhys had been shot.

She said: "I got the to car park and he was unconscious and he didn't come round. I wasn't able to say anything to him.

"He was lying there in a pool of blood. The paramedics tried for an hour and a half to resuscitate him but his little body couldn't take it. He'd just lost too much blood."

Mr Jones told how he heard the news. He said: "Last night, when I was on my way to work, I got a telephone call from my wife. I thought pellet gun, whatever."

"I turned around and got to Croxteth Park and there was police everywhere. I thought, 'God, what's happened here?'."

The horror-struck father at first went to the wrong hospital before travelling to Alder Hey in Liverpool, where doctors were trying desperately to save his son's life.

He said: "I got to Alder Hey and went in to the major trauma room. There was my son lying on his back, bleeding, trying to be resuscitated by the doctors there.

"They did a fantastic job but he's gone. We got taken to the bereavement suite. You go to see him, you hold him and cuddle him. The guy's only 11, he's only 11."

"Whoever has done it, they just need to be caught. I would never, ever want to put anyone through what I went through last night, walking into that trauma room, seeing my son in pools of blood, fighting for his life. It's not real, it's not on."

Mr Jones told of the agony of returning home. He said: "I went to his room where he should be asleep, opened his wardrobe, his school uniform that we have bought for senior school, his pens and pencils, are there unopened.

"His calculator is there unopened, his shoes are still in the box, his trainers are still in the box. It's just horrific, your worst nightmare.

"His wall is a shrine. The curtains are Everton, the wallpaper is Everton. It's just Everton. He slept and breathed football."

Rhys played for the Fir Tree pub's under-12 team side and his mother said: "He has been in the team all last year and they train once a week. He was a good left-footer, there's not many of them around."

She said it would be too painful to attend the Everton game on Saturday - the family all have season tickets. "I can't go," said Mrs Jones, "I can't sit next to an empty seat."

She said that on the night he died Rhys walked up to the field for soccer training but came back as he had forgotten his subs.

Mrs Jones said: "He ran all the way home to get them and I shouted at him: 'Why didn't you leave it until Saturday?' Then I drove him back up there,"

One eye witness, a 42-year-old business man who did not wish to be named, described the scene as Rhys lay in his mother's arms, his life ebbing away.

He said Mrs Jones knelt on the floor, her trousers soaked in blood, She was was whispering, "Stay with us son," to him over and over again.

The man went on: "I saw a teenager on a bicycle pull up, he was 20 yards from me.

"I heard a bang and thought it was a firework, then as we looked round, he fired two more shots.

"He held both hands up, he never flinched. The victim had on his football boots and a bag on his shoulder. He fell to the ground on his back and I ran to him.

"Girls were screaming. He was looking up and trying to speak but he couldn't get his words out."

Rhys's parents said there was no way their son would have been mixed up with the gangs they had seen in the past hanging around the estate.

Mr Jones said: "There are gangs but I have taken the dog for a walk at night and they have never given me any problems. We are talking about 10-15 teenagers and I have never had any hassle.

"Rhys steered clear of gangs." Mrs Jones added: "He would not have known about gangs. He was only 11. He had a thing in school about them. He was a very bright and sensible lad."

His father added: "If there was anyone he didn't know he would steer clear of them anyway."

Their engineer Tony Ainscough, whose son Lewis, nine, was a close friend of Rhys, said: "He was an absolutely brilliant little lad, an innocent little kid.

"There was no way he had anything to do with gangs and people need to know that.

"He was into normal kids' stuff, playing tick, football or on the PlayStations."

Rhys had been due to start at Fazakerley High School next month and the day before he died he went with his mother to buy the school's uniform tie. Kelly Martin, whose daughter Olivia went to school with Rhys, served them at the local schools outfitter.

She said: "Mel and I were talking. I said I can't believe they have grown up so quickly and are going to senior school."

The youngster's death left staff and pupils at Broad Square Primary School in "a deep state of shock."

Headmistress Elaine Spencer said: "Rhys was a really lovely boy, he was extremely popular with everybody who knew him. He was friendly, outgoing and mad about football.

"He was so passionate about football and talked about being the next David Beckham."

"He was also very bright and had just done very well in his SATs. He had a wonderful future ahead of him and it is absolutely terrible that it seems his life has been cut short because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Heartbroken friends went to the scene of the killing yesterday to lay flowers, a teddy bear and a floral tribute of the Everton crest.

Daniel O'Brien, wearing a Liverpool shirt, said: "He always had a smile on his face, you would never see him sad. He was a great lad. He was there when you were crying and he would cheer you up.

"If you didn't have any sweeties he would always share his with you."

The boys said Rhys had never been in trouble. Connor Irwin said: "If someone confronted him at school he would just walk away, I don't think he ever had a fight."

Everton Football Club sent condolences to the Jones family yesterday and midfield star Tim Cahill spoke of his shock and sadness.

He said: "It's unthinkable that a young kid enjoying a game of football with his friends can end up being killed. We know Rhys was a fan and he is in all the players thoughts.

"I hope that whoever carried out this act is brought to justice. It's such a tragic waste of a young life."

The Croxteth Park estate, which is home to 10,000, has increasingly been the scene of tit-for-tat shootings. Two years ago Merseyside police set up a specific unit named Matrix to tackle the issue.

The area around the Fir Tree was designated a "dispersal zone" which lets officers move on groups of youths.

David Saville, chairman of the Croxteth Country Park Residents' Association, said the community had been promised a mobile police station or POD on the pub car park last year, but the plans were withdrawn.

He said: "The idea was to have a police presence between 8am and 12pm but in May we were told it wasn't going to happen.

Apparently, the police couldn't resource it and we are getting a street camera in October instead. But it is all too little, too late.

"We said someone was going to have to die before the authorities did anything and now they have. If that POD had been there this little lad would not have lost his life."

Two teen suspects freed on bail

Two teenagers who were arrested over the death of Rhys Jones were released on bail last night.

Police are still refusing to speculate on a motive for the murder of the 11-year-old.

One theory being investigated is that he was caught in the "crossfire" of a revenge attack.

The suburb north of Liverpool city centre where he lived and died, Croxteth, is blighted by tit-for-tat gang killings.

One of the arrested youths, a 14-year-old, is the son of a postal worker and lives less than two miles from the scene of the murder.

His father said the arrest was "all a big mistake." The other suspect is 18. Rhys was shot in broad daylight at the Fir Tree pub car park on Wednesday night.

He was hit in the neck by one of three shots fired from a hand gun by his killer, described as white and aged 13-15. He died less than a mile from his home in Croxteth Park.

The murder came just hours before the first anniversary of the killing of Liam Smith.

The 19-year-old, an alleged member of the Norris Green Strand Crew, was shot dead by members of the rival Croxteth Crew as he walked out of Altcourse Prison, Merseyside, on August 23 last year.

Yesterday, three members of the gang were convicted of Smith's murder. Residents in the neighbouring suburbs, north of Liverpool city centre, said they feared reprisals for his killing. They said the rival crews had been squaring up to each other for the past fortnight.

Shortly before Rhys's murder, members of the Strand Crew had been seen hanging around shops in Croxteth Park, territory "ruled" by their rivals.

Although gang shootings in recent years have been related to turf wars over drugs, locals say this is no longer the case.

They say the gangs are run by younger and younger members who are killing or wounding others simply for failing to show respect.

Sources close to the police investigation said they were 'keeping an open mind' and were hoping CCTV would provide a breakthrough in their investigation.



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