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.
The Murder of Rhys Jones
Rhys Milford Jones was born in the area of Liverpool on the 27th September 1995. Rhys’ parents, Stephen and Melanie also had one other child, Rhys’ older brother Owen who was born in 1990. Rhys was enjoying his summer holidays at the time and preparing for his transition to secondary school once the holidays were over. He had finished his time at Broad Square Primary School and was due to join Fazakerley High School in September. Anyone who knew Rhys, including his headteacher and neighbours said he was friendly and popular and that his main interest was Football. Unfortunately, his love for football would lead to his death.
Rhys had begun playing for the Fir Tree Boys football club and had been attending practice sessions throughout the summer. After one training session he decided to make his way home alone. As he crossed through the Fir Tree pub car park in the area of Croxteth Park Estate, the route he would normally take if he was walking home, a hooded individual rode past him on a silver mountain bike. It was at this moment that the hooded figure revealed a Smith and Wesson handgun and at arm’s length fired three shots. One bullet hit Rhys, the bullet entering his back above his left shoulder blade and then exiting from the front side of his neck. It is believed that while Rhys lay motionless in the car park his mother rushed to be by his side but when she reached him he was unconscious. Paramedics then arrived and for 90 minutes tried to resuscitate the young boy, but Rhys was pronounced dead after some time at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. This random shooting was now a murder investigation.
The media began appealing immediately in Liverpool for information relating to who the hooded individual was. Local radio station Radio City began broadcasting programmes between 10pm and 2pm which focused on finding witnesses and speaking about the dangers and statistics relating to gun crime. Off the back of this, Radio City also launched an anti-gun-crime campaign, with it being general knowledge that gun violence and gun crime in Liverpool was high and this needed to be stopped. After reviewing CCTV footage the police knew that they were after a young male, probably between the ages of 15-20 who may have connections with the local gangs based in Croxteth or Toxteth. 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.
Off the bases of these identifications, detectives arrested and later released four individuals aged between 15 and 19 in connection with the crime. Alongside this 2 further arrests were made but all arrests led to bail pending further inquiries. With no fresh evidence and no witness statements Liverpool police began making public appeals through the many media platforms in the hope that one person would step forward with some lead for the enquiry. To further the concept that the hunt was still on for the hooded figure, Rhys’ parents made a fresh appeal on the 19th September and again on the BBC crime show Crimewatch on the 26th September. This provided some response, as on the night the show was broadcast 12 individuals contacted the police all stating the same name: Sean Mercer. Despite the fact that Liverpool residents had begun graffitiing Sean’s name on all walls and buildings throughout the area and all over social media sites, the police still appealed for more witnesses.
It was on the 15th April 2008 that Merseyside police confirmed that they had 11 individuals in for custody. The sickening thing about this crime was that all suspected were aged between 17 and 25, barely adults themselves. The next day the police added more suspects to their list arresting another for murder and 5 more for assisting an offender. It was known to the police that one of these individuals already had a criminal record for the possession of a firearm. The ones arrested were all known members of the Croxteth Crew, a criminal gang that ran from the area of Croxteth in Liverpool, the same area in which Rhys had been murdered. The murder of Rhys also fell on the one year anniversary of Liam Smith, a member of the rival gang, the Norris Green Stand Crew. This went on to show the impact of youth gangs within Liverpool and thus media attention heightened around youth gangs and gun crime within Liverpool.
The police were positive that they had their murderer and the individuals who went to long lengths to cover the crime. On 16th December 2008, Sean Mercer was found guilty of the murder of Rhys’ Jones. At the time of sentencing, Mercer was aged 18 and therefore was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum sentence of 22 years. The court was told that on the day that Rhys was murdered, Mercer had a determination to kill when he arrived on his bike, regardless of if he shot the wrong person he still was determined to kill someone from a rival gang. Other gang members from the same gang as Mercer were convicted of crimes relating to the murder. This included James Yates, Nathan Quinn, Boy M, Gary Kays, Melvin Coy and Dean Kelly. In January 2009, Yates was sentenced to seven years, Dean Kelly to four years and Nathan Quinn to two years. However on the 28th October 2009, Yates had his sentence increased to 12 years imprisonment. Information came to light that Melvin Coy, from West Derby had drove Mercer to a lockup in Kirkby where they doused Mercer in petrol to conceal gunshot residue. For his part in the crime he was sentenced to seven years for his involvement.
Over 2,500 individuals attended Rhys’ funeral which was held at the Liverpool Cathedral on 6th September 2007.
What happened to Rhys’ killers?
Sean Mercer is currently at Frankland Prison, a category A prison within Durham. This prison is also nicknamed, Monster Mansion’ due to the notorious killers that have resided there. This includes individuals such as the Soham Killer (Ian Huntly), Levi Bellfield (Milly Dowler’s killer), Charles Bronson, Harold Shipman and the Yorkshire Ripper (Peter Sutcliffe). Reports claim that while he is incarcerated, Mercer has been completing an Open University Degree and makes his own food. Mercer hit the media headlines once more when a national newspaper received letters he was penning to a woman on the outside. He wrote, ‘I have to live with what happened every day and its horrible, as I’ve said it kills me inside, I didn’t know the little lad had been hit until hours later. I didn’t see him, I found out on the night time. It’s a shit situation. I can’t help but think I’m unlucky, I guarantee I wouldn’t of been still in the gangs it would have been more along the lines of being shot and killed myself before I realised the reality of what I was doing suck in. I train every day in the gym so I’m pretty good shape. I’ve grown up a bit really, that picture (referring to his mug shot from 10 years prior) that picture they blast everywhere was when I was 16, I looked proper young on that. I was only small then, im over 6 foot now. You can buy and cook your own food in the wing, im in the kitchen every night cooking, I consider myself quite a good cook now which is a good thing.’ It is also believed that Mercer stabbed Jake Fahri (19 at the time) four times in the back with a sharpened pair of tweezers with the exercise yard. The wounds inflicted included a deep wound that was said to narrowly miss Fahri’s spine. Fahri was incarcerated for murdering Jimmy Mizen, 16 in an unprovoked attack where he threw a glass bowl at Jimmy, subsequently slashing his neck and Jimmy bleeding to death.
In 2012, James Yates was moved to an open prison with only two years left to serve on his sentence and was soon put on a day release programme. He was officially released in 2014 after serving only five years with the condition he was not allowed to return to the area where Rhys was murdered. However in 2015, James Yates was in the media again after trying to get into neighbourhood where Rhys family were currently residing. It is believed he tried to convince government bosses to let him in slyly. Following the situation he applied to have the ban lifted but this was declined immediately. Following his release he was recalled to prison the year after with alleged relation to a drugs ring in Dundee and accused of using threats and violence towards others during the running of the ring, this was however cleared in 2017.
It was not just the young individuals who received sentences. The mother of Mercer was also jailed for three years in 2009 for perverting the course of justice. She numerously lied to detectives, including covering up the fact that her son had a silver mountain bike, stating very clearly the only bikes he had were black, orange and white. However police quickly found out that he did in fact have a silver bike which had been delivered to their family home four months earlier following an insurance claim.
James Yate’s parent’s were also jailed for perverting the course of justice. His mother Marie was sentenced to 18 months in prison in April 2009, whereas his father, Francis, received four and a half years.
Nathan Quinn was released from jail in 2011 and was also banned from the area of Croxteth. Little is now known about Nathan Quinn and where he resides.