Murder of Rhys Jones
Rhys Milford Jones|
27 September 1995
22 August 2007 (aged 11)|
|Cause of death||Shooting|
Rhys Milford Jones (27 September 1995 – 22 August 2007) was murdered in Liverpool at the age of 11 when he was shot in the back. Sean Mercer, aged 16 at the time of the shooting, went on trial on 2 October 2008, and was found guilty of murder on 16 December. He was sentenced to life imprisonment serving 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 five weeks 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 former 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, later determined to be the wrong bullets for the gun. 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.
Jones' mother rushed to the scene when she heard what had happened. By the time she had reached him, he was unconscious. Paramedics tried for 90 minutes 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 programmes on the night of the incident, in particular the 10 pm – 2 am 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 inquiries. 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 2009, 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 2009, 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's local rivals Liverpool FC agreed to play the beginning of Johnny Todd – 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 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.
Starting on 24 April 2017 a new ITV drama Little Boy Blue aired based on the murder. It was met with positive reviews where viewers described how hard it was to watch. However the drama was criticised by a senior police officer who described her portrayal in it as "simply wrong". She said the ITV programme, although based on a real event, is a drama and therefore details had been dramatised and should not be taken as fact.
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- Little Boy Blue review – gut-wrenching grief, and an investigation that nearly didn’t get results. The Guardian. Published 25 April 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
- Little Boy Blue: Senior officer criticises Rhys Jones ITV drama. BBC NEWS. Published 16 May 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
|Wikinews has related news: 13 arrested in Rhys Jones murder investigation|
- Videos and galleries relating to Rhys Jones's death: Rhys Jones galleries and videos from the Liverpool Daily Post