Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Life term for Rhys Jones killer

Sean Mercer

A teenager has been jailed for life for the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones who was shot outside a Liverpool pub.

Sean Mercer, 18, of Croxteth, was convicted of the murder after a nine-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

Mercer was 16 when he shot Rhys outside the Fir Tree pub in August 2007 as the schoolboy walked back to his home from football practice.

He was ordered to serve a minimum tariff of 22 years by trial judge Mr Justice Irwin.

The judge branded Mercer a "coward" and described the gang members as "selfish and shallow criminals".

After the verdict was read out, Rhys' father Stephen Jones said: "Finally justice has been done for Rhys."

Mercer, of Good Shepherd Close, was convicted by the jury after almost four days of deliberations.

Rhys' parents welcome the verdict

Fellow gang members James Yates, 20, of Dodman Road and Nathan Quinn, 18, of Wickett Close, both Croxteth; Gary Kays, 26, of Mallard Close and Melvin Coy, 25, of Abbeyfield Drive, both West Derby, Liverpool, and Boy M, 16, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were convicted unanimously of assisting an offender after they helped Mercer evade the police for months.

Defendant Boy K, who can now be named as Dean Kelly, 17, of Sword Walk, Croxteth, after Mr Justice Irwin lifted reporting restrictions, was convicted of four related charges.

The judge also lifted an order banning reporting the fact that Quinn is already serving five years for gun-related offences.

All of the verdicts apart from Kelly's were reached on Monday but could not be reported until now.

Gary Kays and Melvin Coy were each sentenced to seven years.

Yates, Quinn, Kelly and Boy M are expected to be sentenced in January.

'Intense hatred'

As Mercer's guilty verdict was announced to the silent courtroom, Rhys' mother Melanie Jones burst into tears.

Mercer's father, Joseph McCormick, looked at his son and mouthed "I love you".

During the trial, the court heard how Mercer was a leading member of the Croxteth Crew gang, which terrorised the local community and was involved in a long-running and bloody feud with the Strand Gang, based on the neighbouring Norris Green estate.

Rhys Jones

The jury was also told he had an "intense hatred" of Strand Gang member Wayne Brady.

Mercer went to shoot Brady, 19, when he was told by Coy and Kays that he had been seen cycling near the Fir Tree Pub, which is on Croxteth Crew territory.

Dressed in a black hoodie and tracksuit, Mercer armed himself with Yates's Smith and Wesson .455 revolver and cycled to the pub where he took up position on a grass verge alongside the car park.

Holding the gun with both hands, he fired three shots at Brady's friends.

Rhys, distracted by the sound of the first bullet, turned toward the gunman and was struck in the neck by the second bullet.

Mercer then aimed one final shot at his two rivals.

The third bullet struck a disused well as the gunman and his targets fled the scene.

The court heard Rhys died in the arms of his mother.

'No honour'

After the shooting, Mercer cycled to the home of Boy M, where he called on his fellow gang members to help him avoid the law.

On sentencing, Mr Justice Irwin added: "This offence arose from the stupid, brutal gang conflict which has struck this part of Liverpool.

"You were caught up in that at a young age but it is clear you gloried in it.

"It is wrong to let anyone glorify or romanticise this kind of gang conflict."

Clockwise from top left: James Yates, Gary Kays, Dean Kelly, Nathan Quinn, Melvin Coy

He added: "You are not soldiers. You have no discipline, no training, no honour.

"You do not command respect. You may think you do, 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 Jones's life is gone. We do not take a life for a life, although even if you are released, you will be under licence and supervised for as long as you live."

The chief investigating officer Det Supt Dave Kelly said: "Mercer's conduct on the 22 August showed total disregard for Rhys and others.

"Since killing Rhys, and during his trial, it's fair to say that Sean Mercer has shown no remorse whatsoever.

"We only hope that the verdict will bring home to him the enormity of what he has done and the pain and suffering he has caused."

Speaking outside court, Stephen Jones, supported by his wife Melanie, said: "From the day Rhys died the kindness shown to us by the people of Liverpool has been immeasurable.

"For this we will always thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Over the months we have found strength in the messages of support from many thousands of strangers around the world.

"For us as a family today is not the final chapter of the tragedy. But at least now we can begin the challenge of rebuilding our lives. Thank you all very much."

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