Rhys Jones’ dad has recalled the heartbreaking moment he was told his 11-year-old son was gunned down in the Croxteth area of Liverpool as he walked home from football practice.
On 22nd August 2011, Rhys Jones was caught in the crossfire of a local gang war being waged in Liverpool, when 16-year-old Sean Mercer opened fire, sparking one of the UK’s most high-profile murder investigations in recent memory.
Speaking in documentary Britain’s Deadliest Kids on discovery+, his dad Steve Jones has spoken of the heartbreaking moment he discovered Rhys had been shot in the car park just a few hundred yards away from their family home.
Recalling hearing the news from his wife as he drove to work, he explains: ‘I was on the M57 heading up towards Southport when Mel phoned saying that Rhys had been shot and I needed to go home.
‘She sounded distraught, absolutely in tears, you could hear in her voice.’ With Mel now at the scene, Rhys was rushed to hospital.
Rhys Jones’ dad Steve (pictured) has recalled the heartbreaking moment he was told his 11-year-old son was gunned down in the Croxteth area of Liverpool as he walked home from football practice
On 22nd August 2011, Rhys Jones (pictured) was caught in the crossfire of a local gang war being waged in Liverpool, when 16-year-old Sean Mercer opened fire, sparking one of the UK’s most high-profile murder investigations in recent memory
For killing 11-year-old Rhys Jones, Sean Mercer was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 22 years. All of his accomplices were also found guilty, and handed sentences ranging from two to seven years (pictured)
Tragically, and despite the best efforts of paramedics and hospital staff, Rhys died of his injuries shortly after arriving at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
‘Your mind just doesn’t want to take it in, doesn’t want to accept it,’ Steve Jones says, reflecting on his son’s death.
A proud Evertonian, Rhys was walking home from football practice when he was shot in the back.
For Rhys’ football coach, Steve Geoghegan, a normal summer’s evening training session quickly turned to tragedy.
Recalling the horrific moment he saw the youngster hit the ground, just seconds after being shot, he explains: ‘I start to put my stuff in the car and Rhys walked past me, I said “here you are, Rhys. I’ll drop you off.” He said, “no it’s alright, I’ll walk.”
‘I got in my car, reversed it, went to drive out, and my son Sean screamed,’ Steve says, recalling the moment three gunshots rang out. ‘My son Sean had heard the gunshots; I didn’t hear nothing.
In emotional scenes, DCI Kelly (pictured) breaks down as he describes what the moment was like when he went to see Rhys Jones’ parents after the fatal shooting
As he screamed, I sort of jumped, and he shouted Rhys’ name. I knew Rhys was over to my right, and I actually looked out of the window to my right. I actually caught Rhys fall, I seen him fall.’
‘I jumped out the car, my son got there seconds before me, and by the time I got there Rhys was lying in a pool of blood.’
As a passer-by started to administer first aid, Steve describes how he felt as the horror of the situation set in.
‘She’s screaming to me, ‘he’s been shot!’ I just went numb if I’m honest, I didn’t know what to do. I saw Rhys lying there and his eyes were open,’ he says.
Assigned to the case, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Kelly was tasked with finding Rhys’ killer, an unknown assailant caught on CCTV riding a bicycle. But DCI Kelly’s first job was to go to the hospital to see the parents.
As the investigation progressed, it became apparent to the police that Rhys (pictured) had been caught in the crossfire of a local gang war, pointing to Mercer as the primary suspect in the shooting
Breaking down as he describes what that moment was like, he says: ‘An 11-year-old boy. He was due to go to senior school in September; she [Mel Jones] got his uniform and stuff ready for him. And he was just taken out.
‘Their world had been ripped apart. Just ripped apart. And it was for me and the team to try and give them some answers and to bring the people who were responsible to justice.
‘But they are two lovely people. I just wanted to do my job so that Mel and Steve could get some justice.’
Yet while the murder was captured on CCTV, police were unable to identify Rhys’ killer.
‘We looked at enhancing the video through various agencies around the country and indeed around the world, but no, nothing,’ DCI Kelly reveals.
But although the killer couldn’t be identified from the CCTV, one name was constantly being mentioned to officers: 16-year-old local troublemaker Sean Mercer.
‘Sean Mercer was a local lad; he’d been stopped on numerous occasions. I thought he was part of a gang called the Croxteth Crew, so he was thrown in the frame,’ DCI Kelly notes.
‘It’s clear that he was pretty senior, and people in the community were pretty scared of him,’ local journalist Helen Carter adds.
As the investigation progressed, it became apparent to the police that Rhys had been caught in the crossfire of a local gang war, pointing to Mercer as the primary suspect in the shooting.
But four months on from the murder, while DCI Kelly and his team patiently gathered evidence, Mercer arrogantly strolled about Liverpool, believing that he was in the clear.
‘He’s just walking around like he hasn’t got a care in the world,’ Steve Geoghegan recalls. ‘He was kind of like king of the estate, swaggering around with his acolytes just being an absolute prat, really,’ journalist Helen Carter adds.
According to Forensic Psychologist Professor David Wilson, Mercer’s attitude was one of ‘invincibility.’
‘He must have felt as if he had got away with murder. Now, what that does for him is that makes him feel invincible, that gives him even greater status in the gang.’
Having pieced the investigation together, crucially linking the murder weapon and ammunition to Mercer, DCI Kelly was able to arrest and charge Mercer. But, as Steve Jones attests, DCI Kelly’s quest for justice didn’t stop there.
‘If he had just got the person who pulled the trigger, we would have been happy, but Dave was insistent that he was going to get as many people as he could.’
After eight months gathering evidence, the investigation team finally had enough to charge Mercer with Rhys Jones’ murder, as well as 16 other people in connection with the shooting. Pictured, the weapon that killed Rhys Jones
After eight months gathering evidence, the investigation team finally had enough to charge Mercer with Rhys Jones’ murder, as well as 16 other people in connection with the shooting.
It was another eight months until Mercer and his colleagues were put on trial at Liverpool Crown Court.
With the world watching, Mercer and the gang’s behaviour in the dock was deplorable, according to DCI Kelly.
‘From day one the behaviour from all the defendants was disgraceful,’ he says.
‘Sean and all the defendants were all absolutely appallingly behaved, they were very disrespectful towards the judge, they would try and stare us out in the press gallery; they would do anything to try and look tough and intimidatory,’ journalist Helen Carter adds.
In the end, Mercer’s arrogance would be his undoing. After deliberating for three and half days, the jury found Sean guilty of Rhys Jones’ murder.
‘Mel was euphoric, she hugged me,’ DCI Kelly remembers. ‘We actually got a result, we got some sort of justice for Rhys,’ Steve Jones adds.
For killing 11-year-old Rhys Jones, Sean Mercer was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 22 years. All of his accomplices were also found guilty, and handed sentences ranging from two to seven years.
In the wake of their son’s tragic death, Steve and Mel Jones have tried to take something from their ordeal and turn it into a positive, campaigning for youth services and creating a lasting memorial to their son: the Rhys Jones Community Centre.
‘We did a lot of fundraising after we lost Rhys, and we built the little sports centre where Fir Tree used to train,’ Steve Jones says. ‘We’re reminded every day of Rhys; we think about him every.’
Britain’s Deadliest Kids is available to stream as a boxset from Saturday 31st of July on discovery+, with episodes also airing weekly on Quest Red