A teenager was yesterday sentenced to a minimum of 22 years in gaol for the murder of 11-year-old football fan Rhys Jones in the Croxteth area of Liverpool last year. He has no chance of parole until he has served that time.

Rhys Jones, an ardent Everton fan, was on his way home from football practice when he was shot dead outside Firtree Pub on 22nd August last year.

It is thought he was caught in the crossfire of two battling neighbouring gangs - one gang from Croxteth the other from Norris Green.

Sean Mercer, 18, was sentenced by Liverpool Magistrates yesterday.

Other gang members James Yates, 20; Nathan Quinn, 18; Gary Kays, 26; and Melvin Coy, 25 as well as Boy 'M', 16 were convicted of assisting an offender and Boy 'K' - Dean Kelly, 17 was convicted of 4 related offences. Gary Kay and Melvin Koy were both sentenced to 7 years; the others will be sentenced in January.

It has also been revealed that Mercer's family hold a macabre secret - his great-great-grandfather was hanged in Liverpool in 1929 for slitting his wife's throat. British justice was much swifter in those days - his execution occured just two months after the murder.

Revealed: Rhys Jones's teenage killer was stopped EIGHTY times by police

By Liz Hull
17th December 2008
Daily Mail

Guilty: Sean Mercer, 18, has been convicted of killing Rhys Jones

Chilling details of the lawlessness that was allowed to fester on the streets where Rhys Jones was murdered can be revealed today.

Sean Mercer was just 16 when he opened fire on a rival, killing the innocent 11-year-old youngster as he walked home from football practice.

Last night as Mercer, now 18, was locked up for 22 years, an MP said he feared the feuding and tit-for-tat teenage gang rivalry still remained and called for tough police action to crush them.

Mercer, a self-styled 'soldier' whose great-great-grandfather was hanged for murder, was:
  • Stopped 80 times by police in the run up to and after the murder;
  • In breach of an anti-social behaviour order while running rampant in the gang-scarred district of Croxteth;
  • Part of a vicious gang war which resulted in 20 shootings in three years leading up to the Rhys killing;
  • Went on on a 'trial run' two months before the murder, riding a motorbike through rival gang territory and waving a gun.

Tragic victim: 11-year-old Everton fan Rhys bled to death after he strayed across a gang fight and was shot in the neck as he walked home from football practice

Rhys was murdered near the Firtree Pub in Croxteth

A grainy CCTV image of a hooded youth near the Fir Tree pub in Croxteth on the day of the shooting was used in evidence

Since the murder, Merseyside Police have dramatically increased patrols and seen gun crime fall sharply.

Last night Bob Wareing, the MP who represents both Croxteth and Norris Green, acknowledged police efforts had made an impact, but said the estates should be flooded with even more officers.

'These gangs should and could be crushed by police,' he said. 'There cannot be any half measures with these people.'

Incredibly, Mercer's girlfriend described the jailed killer as a 'hero'. Kelly Marshall, 17, told Sky: 'Sean is a lovely lad. He wouldn't harm anyone. It wasn't him.

'He's a hero around here. All the lads love him around here. Because he knows it's not him but he hasn't grassed anyone up.'

Melanie and Stephen Jones, parents of 11-year-old Rhys, outside Liverpool Crown Court after Sean Mercer, 18, was found guilty of their son's murder

Teenage gunman Sean Mercer is pictured on CCTV in custody

Sentencing Mercer, Mr Justice Irwin said: '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 parents, Stephen and Melanie, retained their dignity as their son's killer was locked up.

Afterwards Mr Jones, 45, said: 'From the day Rhys died, the kindness shown by the people of Liverpool has been immeasurable, for which we will always thank them from the bottom of our hearts.'

Rhys died on August 22, 2007, when Mercer, armed with a revolver, cycled to his estate to try to shoot members of the rival Strand Gang.

Tragically, Rhys was struck by his second bullet, suffering terrible injuries.

The 'wall of silence' faced by police meant that while Mercer's name swiftly emerged as the prime suspect in the shooting, months of painstaking detective work was required to charge him with murder.

Mercer was found guilty of murder and jailed for life.

Fellow gang members Gary Kays, 25, Melvin Coy, 25, James Yates, 20, Nathan Quinn, 18, Dean Kelly, 17, and Boy M, 16, were all found guilty of assisting an offender.

Yates and Kelly were found guilty of possessing the murder weapon.

Kays and Coy were both jailed for seven years. The other four will be sentenced in the New Year.

The battered antique which killed Rhys:

The gun with which Sean Mercer shot Rhys Jones was a battered antique which would not have looked out of place in a cowboy movie.

A .455 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with a six-inch barrel, it may have been handed down through generations of Liverpool criminals.

It was made during the First World War in about 1915, but remained in good working order.

However the rifling in the barrel was worn and the bullets fired by Mercer were slightly undersized, causing them to tumble end-over-end.

As a result, the round which hit Rhys was side-on when it struck him in the back of the neck, splintering vertebrae and destroying his windpipe before exiting through his throat.

The Croxeth Crew also had an imitation Walther PPK converted to fire live rounds, a British Army Webley revolver and a Russian.

Rhys Jones murder: The killer with with a macabre family secret

By James Tozer and Liz Hull
17th December 2008
Daily Mail

Sean Mercer: There is a history of murder in Rhys Jones' killer's family tree

The youth who callously gunned down Rhys Jones was hiding a dark family secret, the Daily Mail can reveal.

Nearly 80 years ago, Sean Mercer's great-great-grandfather slit his wife's throat after accusing her of having an affair.

Back in 1929, justice was rather swifter than it is today, and he was hanged at Liverpool prison just two months later.

The grim killing is not the only scandal in Mercer's past - his father was involved in a high-profile shooting which involved the city's most notorious modern-day gangster.

Mercer's ancestor, John Maguire, was 43 when he murdered his wife Ellen at their Liverpool tenement on September 5, 1929.

A fruit hawker, he returned home after she had cooked dinner for their ten children and they had a row which led to him slashing her throat with a razor and stabbing her in the back.

Maguire, a First World War veteran, was arrested the following day and told police: 'She upset me, and I lost my temper.

'She practically told me the child Nellie was not mine, and there are other things causing trouble.'

He was convicted of murder on November 8 at Liverpool's imposing St George's Hall and sentenced to death.

The hanging took place at the city's Walton jail at 8am on November 26.

The ten children were left as orphans, the younger ones raised by relatives.

Six decades later, on September 17, 1990, Sean Mercer was born at Fazakerley Hospital, Liverpool, the middle child of Janette Mercer and Joseph McCormick.

According to sources close to the family, the couple are second cousins, both descended from John Maguire, who is therefore Sean Mercer's great-great grandfather twice over.

Killed and killer: Ellen Maguire was murdered by her husband, John Maguire, as reported by the Liverpool Echo in 1929

But it was neither his scandalous past nor his chaotic upbringing that ultimately turned Sean Mercer into a heartless assassin.

In his dismal school record and lifestyle of drugs and petty crime, he resembled thousands of directionless teenagers on downtrodden estates.

Perhaps most shocking is that this youth who played the part of the hardened assassin with such callous dedication was, until that moment, just another disruptive teenager leading a dead-end life, with only one minor conviction and an Asbo to his name.

After his parents separated, Mercer and his siblings lived in a terraced council house on the tough streets of Croxteth, just a few hundred yards from where England star Wayne Rooney and his future wife, Coleen McLoughlin, were brought up.

Like Rooney and Everton fanatic Rhys, Mercer was a keen footballer, dreaming of playing for his beloved Liverpool FC and emulating his hero, Steven Gerrard, himself raised three miles away in Huyton.

Mercer even attended the same school as Rooney, Catholic comprehensive De La Salle, but it was soon evident he was not talented enough to make the grade.

Equally disillusioned with his studies, the teenager started hanging around with older youths and became sucked into the area's increasingly ruthless gangs.

Sean Mercer's mother and father Jeanette Mercer and Joseph McCormack

Mercer rarely saw his father, a physical training instructor and bouncer who, it can today be revealed, was embroiled in a high-profile court case when his son was just five.

In July 1996, Joe McCormick was shot at outside a nightclub by a member of a drugs gang linked to Curtis Warren.

McCormick's brother John was later secretly taped speaking to Warren, telling of his despair that his own relative had gone to the police and insisting they should sort it out themselves.

Joe McCormick was later accused of taking a bribe in return for changing his story, but charges of perverting the course of justice were later stayed.

His co-defendants - Elmore Davies, then a serving Detective Chief Inspector with Merseyside police, and a former star of the TV show Gladiators, Mike Ahearne, who went by the name Warrior - were jailed for plotting to block the prosecution.

With no father figure to look up to, Mercer doted upon his mother, a glamorous, immaculately presented brunette who works as a invoice clerk.

At the time of the shooting, he was officially enrolled on a carpentry course at a local college.

In reality, after leaving De La Salle with few qualifications and acquiring the obligatory mountain bike and dog - status symbols of young gang members in the area - he was making money running drugs, mainly cannabis, for local dealers.

His closest friend was his co-defendant Dean Kelly, and just weeks before he shot Rhys they had been made the subject of an Asbo and banned from visiting Croxteth Sports Centre for repeatedly vandalising the building and surrounding area.

ITN News filmed Sean Mercer swaggering round the streets five months after Rhys's death

Dave Preece, 19, said: 'Mercer and Kelly thought they were gangsters and tough, and hung round the centre for a laugh. They used to swear at people when they walked out.

'It was mindless really. They just acted like bored, stupid kids - they were losers.'

By the months running up to Rhys's killing, it was clear that Mercer had started to become sucked into a world of lawlessness and gang loyalty.

In what can now be seen as a training run for the 'hit' in which Rhys died, that summer he was seen roaring into the enemy territory of Norris Green on a motorbike, waving a gun at rival gang members and threatening passers-by. The incident was not reported to police at the time.

In total he was stopped by police as many as 80 times in four years, but despite a policy of zero tolerance towards known gang members, officers were unable to find the evidence to put him behind bars.

In the months following Rhys's killing, Mercer roamed the streets of Croxteth, revelling in his notoriety as a killer on the run and bragging about his gangster lifestyle to younger boys.

Life of freedom: Sean on the streets

Extraordinary footage shot by ITV News in January this year, five months after the murder, shows him swaggering about the estate even as police raid his family home.

Dressed in a camouflage print hooded top and with a balaclava and a baseball cap partially covering his face, Mercer strolls about, surrounded by fawning teenagers on bicycles, looking back over his shoulder at the officers making their search.

It also emerged that when a big screen was set up in Croxteth to publicise a Crimewatch appeal for Rhys's killer, Mercer cycled up to see it, made sure police knew who he was, then burst out laughing and cycled away.

He was convinced he was above the law - but in reality a dedicated team of detectives and lawyers were building up the evidence which yesterday saw him locked up until 2029 at the earliest.

Police secretly provided protection for Mercer, determined that he would face trial rather than being attacked by vigilantes.

The officer who led the hunt for Rhys's killer, Detective Superintendent Dave Kelly, said: 'He is not remorseful. Within a week I knew Mercer was our man.'