The summer holidays are meant to be a time for young children to enjoy playing out till late at night, having fun with their friends and being care free for the next six weeks while school is closed. However, in this instance, the summer holidays were not full of bliss. Instead the city of Liverpool was shook by the news of a tragic death fuelled by gangs, turf wars and guns. The senseless killing still shocks the nation 12 years later when eleven year old, football fan Rhys Jones lost his life.
Rhys Mulford Jones was born in the Croxteth, Liverpool on 27th September 1995 to Stephen and Melanie Jones and became the younger brother of Owen. In the summer of 2007, when the fatal crime happened, Rhys had just finished his education at Broad Square Primary School on the Norris Green housing estate and was due to begin secondary school at Fazakerly High School. Those who knew Rhys describe him as a friendly and popular boy who loved football. The same could not be said for the area of Norris Green. Norris Green is a large council housing estate ward, with a population of around 16,000. Gangs run rife through Liverpool, with large groups ruling areas of Liverpool. The murder of schoolboy Rhys Jones exposed this criminal world of rival gang and turf warfare, highlighting the growing danger of two gangs: the Nogga Dogs and the Crocky Crew. The Nogga Dogs, formally known as the Strand Gang, formed in 1988, hailed from Norris Green and as a result of the formation of the gang there was multiple deaths and injuries caused through turf wars. Liverpool’s suburbs have always been known to be a rough place for children to grow up, with many being influenced into gangs by older figures which they see as authority. This resulted in many young individuals being caught up in the world of drugs, guns and war. Resident’s who lived in the area in which Rhys’ had grown up said that there was many problems concerning anti-social behaviour within the area.
On the 22nd August 2007, Rhys had attended a Wednesday Summer School holiday football training session at the Fir Tree Boys Football Club. He had gone to the football practice alone and hence when the training finished, Rhys walked home alone. As he was crossing the Fir Tree Pub car park in the neighbouring area of Croxteth Park Estate, tragedy struck. A hooded youth riding a silver mountain bike approached Rhys across the car park. Instantly the youth pulled out a Smith & Wesson handgun and held it at arm’s length, firing three shots at young Rhys. One bullet struck Rhys in his neck, however during the later trial it was revealed by a pathologist that the bullet had entered his back above his left shoulder blade and then exited from the front side of his neck. After hearing the news Rhys’ mother, Melanie, rushed to the scene. When she arrived Rhys was unconscious and it is estimated that paramedics tried for 90 minutes to resuscitate Rhys before he was pronounced dead at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. The news circulated around the city of Liverpool, with radio stations running programmes, particularly between the time of 10pm and 2am. The shows were dedicated to appealing for witnesses and had a heavy focus on gun crime. This radio programme led to the development of Get Guns Off Our Streets which was an anti-gun-crime campaign in Rhys’ name.
In terms of arrests, Detectives from Liverpool arrested four people aged between 15 and 19 in connection with the crime, yet these individual’s were released. The problem which Liverpool Police struggled with was that many young individuals within the Liverpool area were in some way connected to a gang, or even a gang member and many individual’s would therefore not grass, maybe out of loyalty but also out of fear. Following the arrest and release of two more individuals (who were also teenagers), the police made a public appeal for information and more than 300 officers and gun crime specialists were deployed in the hunt for the killer on the bike. Four weeks after the murder on 19th September 2007, and with little leads, Rhys’ parents made a fresh appeal for any witnesses oto come forward. On the 26th September an episode of Crimewatch featured the story of Rhys Jones, with Rhys’ mother begging for the mother of her son’s murderer to turn himself in – this emotional plead led to 12 people calling into the programme, all stating the same name. Despite this critical information, and supporting evidence of the suspects name being known within the community as the murderer, the police continued their appeal.
On 15th April 2008, Merseyside Police confirmed that 11 people had been arrested. Again, these individuals were very young, their ages ranging from 17 to 25. The following day, another 6 males of a similar age were arrested; one for murder and another five for assisting. One of the individuals had already been charged with possessing a firearm. The main suspect, who had been named multiple times, was Sean Mercer. Sean Mercer was only 16 years old. Many described him as being a school drop out, who spent the majority of his time riding around on his £300 mountain bike or in homes of his friends smoking cannabis. One of three children, Sean Mercer was also a football fan, with many saying he was a promising footballer. This love for football meant that during the school holidays, Sean Mercer attended the Robbie the Bobby football camp run by local PC Rob Pritchard. These sessions were run to keep young individuals off the street, but this tactic clearly did not work in the case of Sean Mercer. On 16th December 2008, at the end of a nine week trial held at the Crown Court in Liverpool, Sean Mercer ( who came out as a member of the Croxteth Crew Gang) was found guilty of murder. At the time of the trial, Sean Mercer turned 18 meaning he was sentenced to life imprisonment, a minimum sentence of 22 years. Other members of the gang: James Yates, Nathan Quinn, Boy ‘M’, Gary Kays and Melvin Coy were also convicted of assisting an offender.
Following the sentencing the media has still continued to mention the case and comment on other factors relating to the murder. In 2009 on the 2nd November, Sean Mercer stabbed Jake Fahri after crafting a knife from a pair of tweezers. Other reports speculate that while Mercer is serving time at the special unit at HMP Frankland in County Durham he has had special privileges such as a TV, game consoles and a personal trainer. Following this, in 2009, Sean Mercer’s mother Janette was sentenced to three years in jail for perverting the course of justice after she admitted lying to detectives who were investigating the murders. When assistant to the crime, James Yates was released in 2014 he was told he was not allowed to go to the area in which Rhys had been gunned down but in 2015, James Yates made headlines again after trying to convince government to let him enter the neighbourhood where the family of Rhys Jone’s lived. Following this he was called back to prison after being charged in relation to an alleged drug ring in Scotland but this was cleared in 2017. The most surprising story though features Gary Kays. Despite being in jail, Gary Kays still managed to father a child while behind bars and was even granted permission to rush to the hospital to witness the birth of his second child.