Rhys Jones’ killer Sean Mercer was helped in various ways by 10 other people, including his mother, with nine jailed for their involvement in the murder of the youngster
The UK was shocked when 11-year-old Rhys Jones died after a stray bullet fired in a gangland dispute struck the youngster, and then reeled as the despicable crime was covered up. Young Rhys, an Everton fan, had been walking home from football practise with his mum on August 22, 2007, 15 years ago today, and he sadly died at the scene.
He had unwittingly walked into a gang fight between Sean Mercer and his gang, the Croxteth Crew, and rivals from Strand Gang who had strayed onto their 'patch' in Liverpool. Sean fired three shots – including one after he saw Rhys fall – from a World War I-era Smith & Wesson revolver before fleeing the scene.
He then tried to cover up the crime with 10 accomplices but eventually, in 2008, they found themselves in court, where Sean was jailed for life, with a minimum sentence of 22 years behind bars.
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Mercer was helped in various ways by 10 other people, including his mother, in the days and weeks after the fatal shooting.
Despite witnesses and many in the community knowing who was responsible for firing the shot that killed little Rhys it would be eight months before police had enough evidence to make any arrests.
A wall of silence and secrecy fell over Rhys' neighbourhood in Merseyside, so tight was the grip of fear the Croxteth Crew had.
Nine of them were jailed, with their sentences totalled 61 years and six months, with a two-year supervision order handed to one of them.
Sean Mercer fired the fateful shot that killed innocent Rhys while he was walking home across a car park from football practice.
The 16-year-old killer had been aiming for two members of a fellow gang when schoolboy Rhys was caught in the crossfire and hit on the back of the head.
Although Mercer’s name was reported to police by anonymous sources early on in the investigation, it took detectives eight months to gather the evidence required for an arrest.
Mercer, then 18, was found guilty of murder following a nine-week trial in December 2008 and jailed for a life, with a minimum sentence of 22 years behind bars.
He is still behind bars, having served 11 and a half years of his minimum 22 year sentence at Frankland Prison in Durham, where fellow inmates include Soham Killer Ian Huntley and Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe.
The earliest date he could be free is 2030, when he will be 40 years old.
Mercer, who has been behind bars for more than a decade, is now reportedly cashing in as a drugs kingpin.
The now 29-year-old is the boss of a violent gang which distributes spice, marijuana and other drugs inside the prison's walls, according to the Daily Star Sunday.
Phones and prison hooch – also high in demand – are also controlled by Mercer's gang.
A senior prison source said that Mercer’s gang can charge up to £100 for an A4 size sheet of paper which has been soaked in the drug spice.
The source said: "Mercer is the drugs kingpin inside Frankland. He controls the trade through fear but never gets his hands dirty.
"He has a network of people working for him on both the inside and outside and he’s making a lot of money."
Mercer is said to go to the gym every day in HMP Frankland, is known to enjoy cooking, and is studying for a degree with the Open University.
Jail sources have also revealed he has found God and prays every night "for what he has done".
A source said: "Mercer is genuinely religious but that is not to say he is a reformed character.
"He is unable to attend church at the moment because the prison is in lockdown. He has attended Catholic services inside prison."
One former inmate added: "He prays for what he did to Rhys every day. I know that will be difficult for a lot of people to accept but it’s the truth.
"He doesn't want forgiveness. It's his way of coming to terms with the murder."
Mercer's mother Janette, aged 49 at the time of the original crime, was jailed in 2009 for three years after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice by lying to police about the make of her son's bike, which he was riding when the fatal shots were fired.
Now in his early 30s, James Yates is a hated figure on Merseyside for his part in handing the murder weapon to teen killer Sean Mercer and then later helping him cover his tracks after the crime in 2007.
Then aged 20, Yates was jailed for seven years for possession of a firearm and assisting an offender.
After his sentencing, Rhys' parents said: "We are disgusted at the seven-year sentence given to Sean Mercer's accomplice, James Yates.
"In our minds, he is the one who provided the gun that killed our son."
Yates' sentence was subsequently increased to 12 years after his case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Solicitor General, who felt the seven-year term was "unduly lenient".
The court agreed the seven-year sentence was inadequate to reflect the seriousness of the crime.
Yates was released in 2014 after serving less than half his sentence, in a move described as "horrendous" by Rhys' parents.
Rhys' mum told The Mirror : "He may not have pulled the trigger, but he was minding the gun. For us, Yates is the most evil of them all. He makes my skin crawl."
Yates was recalled to prison the following year after he was charged in relation to an alleged drug ring in Dundee, Scotland and accused of using threats and violence towards others during the running of the ring.
However, in 2017 Yates and Kelly were both cleared of any involvement in the alleged drug ring, as no witnesses came forward to identity them.
A Crown Office spokesman told Liverpool Echo : "It is the duty of the Crown to keep cases under review, and to consider any changes in evidence or witness availability. During the preparation of this case for trial, it became clear that essential evidence in the case was no longer available to the Crown.
"It was therefore not possible to continue proceedings. However, we will keep the case under review and reserve the right to re-raise proceedings should the evidential position change."
His 2015 decision to ask for the lifting of a banning order stopping him going back into the neighbourhood where Rhys' parents live, so he could visit a sick relative, sparked widespread anger.
And in 2018, he came to the attention of police again over his alleged involvement in a heroin dealing ring in Dundee, a charge which was eventually dropped when witnesses were too scared to support a prosecution.
His return to jail last year followed him breaching his licence, and although it was never confirmed how this was done, it was suggested he had handed himself in to police in Manchester.
In April 2020, Rhys' parents were informed the strict conditions, which were preventing the career criminal entering Croxteth, are no longer in force.
It means he is able to return to the L11 area, where he has friends and connections, and where his family still live.
Rhys' dad, said: "It's very disappointing. We could bump into him at any time."
Yates’ parents, Francis and Marie, both pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice by destroying potential evidence and hiding vital information from police.
Marie was sentenced to 18 months in April 2009 and Francis received four and a half years.
Nathan Quinn, then 18, was jailed for two years for helping assist Mercer.
He was accused of helping conceal the murder weapon, a Smith and Wesson revolver.
After he was found guilty of assisting an offender, it emerged Quinn was already in prison serving a five-year sentence on firearm offences.
Quinn, who denied any part in the murder cover-up, was released from jail in 2011.
Rhys' parents told Liverpool Echo that year that they were told by probation officers that Quinn would have restrictions placed on his movements, banning him from certain parts of Croxteth, including where Melanie and Steve Jones worked.
However, they told the newspaper the terms had been relaxed to allow Quinn to visit a sick relative in Croxteth between 4pm and 9pm every day.
Melanie said: "They tried telling us about his Human Rights. But he lost the right to visit his family the night Rhys was murdered.
"They won’t be monitoring him all the time. We know what he’s like. He and the others showed us absolutely no respect during the trial – sitting there laughing and joking in the dock. So what's to say he will respect this?
"He will be out and doing what he wants. We've seen the respect he has for the law. It is the scumbags who win again.
"We’ve been told the decision has been made and it's final. It's like our views count for nothing."
Gary Kays, then 26, was found guilty of assisting an offender after being accused of helping Mercer destroy evidence following Rhys’ killing.
He was released on licence in 2011 but was back behind bars in 2013 after he was arrested by detectives investigating drugs smuggling in northern England and had his parole revoked.
In September 2014 he was jailed for three years and five months for conspiring to supply Class A drugs – with 11 others also convicted.
Det Chief Insp Victoria Fuller, head of Durham Constabulary's specialist crime operations unit told the Liverpool Echo : "The men we arrested were, quite simply, horrible people who only cared for themselves.
"At no stage did they give a single thought to the misery their offending inflicted on communities or the innocent people caught up in their activities.
"This is not just about the damage drugs themselves may cause but the associated crime which can badly affect communities, not just in our area but others as well."
Melvin Coy, then 25, was sentenced to seven years behind bars for his role in helping assist an offender. He was accused of helping Mercer evade police capture.
Coy was released on licence in 2011 after serving half his sentence.
An exclusion zone included in his licence terms had barred Coy from entering Croxteth – but the probation service relaxed the conditions to allow Coy to visit his sick mother in the area.
Rhys' father Stephen called the decision "absolutely ridiculous".
But a Probation Service rep said: "In exceptional cases, an offender may be given permission by his supervising officer to enter an exclusion zone, following a risk assessment, for a short period, if there is a compelling reason."
In 2014, Coy was arrested while on parole after being accused of handling a stolen car fitted with a tracking device by police, reports Liverpool Echo.
He was released on bail but in 2015 accused of breaching the terms of his licence by allegedly committing further offences and exhibiting poor behaviour.
He voluntarily attended a police station after police said they wanted to speak with him.
At Liverpool Crown Court, Coy admitted handling stolen goods and was jailed for 12 months and two other men were also convicted.
Dean Kelly was 17 years old when he was found guilty of assisting an offender by helping Mercer provide a fake alibi to police for his whereabouts at the time of Rhys’ murder.
Backing Mercer, Kelly claimed they had been watching a 50 Cent DVD at the time of Rhys' death.
He was also accused of hiding the murder weapon in another boy's loft.
Kelly was released from prison in 2011.
However, he was back behind bars the following year after being charged with speeding away from police in a stolen van which smashed into a couple’s car shortly after they picked their young daughter up from school.
Kelly admitted aggravated vehicle taking and was jailed for ten months, while a co-defendant was also convicted.
In 2017 Kelly and James Yates, a fellow defendant in the Rhys Jones case, were both cleared of any involvement in an alleged drug ring.
Prosecutors dropped charges after no witnesses came forward to identify them.
In April 2019, Kelly was banned from part of Scotland – the county of East Lothian.
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Detectives accused him of having links to "acts of violence and intimidation, including the use of weapons" and accused him of "county lines drug dealing."
Kelly was given an interim Anti-Social Behaviour Order which prohibits him from entering the local authority area of East Lothian, except for the purposes of court appearances and meeting legal advisors.
A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said: "It was alleged that Mr Kelly had a significant involvement with an organised crime group involved in the supply of illegal drugs within the county.
"It was also alleged that Mr Kelly was linked to acts of violence and intimidation, including the use of weapons."
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