Gang war killed an innocent boy and destroyed a family



by Melanie Jones (Virgin £7.99)

On the evening of August 22, 2007, Melanie Jones dropped her 11-year-old son, Rhys, at football practice and handed him a fiver for his fee. ‘Ta-ra Mum,’ he said. ‘I’ll be home to watch England.’

A couple of hours later there was a ‘an almighty bang on the front door… so loud the house shook’. It was one of Rhys’s coaches. ‘Rhys has been shot,’ he blurted. ‘I don’t know anything else. We just need to get up there.’

Melanie grabbed her keys and phone. She called her husband Steve, on his way to work as a supermarket night manager, but her battery died in seconds. Steve wouldn’t know where to go. As she reached the car park of the local pub she saw a huge crowd, which parted to allow her to reach her boy.

‘He was lying in a massive pool of blood,’ she recalls. ‘His eyes were open, but there was nothing there. I had no idea what to do so, instinctively, I gently cradled his head. ‘Stay with me, Rhys,’ I kept saying. ‘Please stay with me. I love you.’

Beloved: Football fan Rhys Jones (pictured) was killed aged 11 in the crossfire of a gang war. His mother Melanie recalls the wait for justice in a new memoir

In the trauma room at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Melanie watched her son’s football kit cut from his body, tubes inserted, as the surgeon gave orders to the doctors and nurses.

Melanie’s arms ached to hold him so the kind nurse who had removed his football boots told her to rub his feet. They were cold. The surgeon shook his head and told the crush of medics to stand back. Melanie shouted at them to keep going, but the surgeon calmly told her there was nothing more they could do.

In her heartbreaking account of that night, Melanie writes: ‘Rhys was declared dead at 8.46pm. Just an hour and a half before that he had been in goal, fielding penalties, getting miffed because his coach got one past him. Now he was gone for ever.’

Melanie, Steve and Rhys’s older brother Owen went home, climbed the stairs in silence and sat on Rhys’s bed, beneath his football posters and trophies. Melanie crawled under his Everton duvet. Nobody slept.

In the days, months and years after that night, well-meaning people told Melanie that her innocent child had been ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’.

The phrase infuriated her. ‘Rhys was where he should have been, at football practice, then walking home, just as a lad his age should be. It was the person who shot him who shouldn’t have been there, who was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing.’

Rhys was killed by 16-year-old Sean Mercer: a member of the Croxteth Crew seeking to impress older thugs by shooting a member of a rival gang. Rhys was caught in the crossfire.

Mercer dismantled the bike he’d been riding, disposed of his hoodie and bullied a boy with learning difficulties into helping him. Although they had their suspicions from the beginning, it took eight months for the police to charge Mercer with murder.

STAY WITH ME, RHYS by Melanie Jones (Virgin £7.99)

STAY WITH ME, RHYS by Melanie Jones (Virgin £7.99)

Melanie Jones takes readers through the agony of that long wait, the tense trial and its unending aftermath.

The Press always focuses on the mothers after a tragedy. We watch them choke back tears as they appeal for information. Jones tells us how it feels to be the unwilling focus of all that attention. She vents her anger at the politicians who try to befriend her, the family liaison officer who tells her the grief will destroy her marriage, the mediums who come with their ‘mumbo-jumbo’ visions of her child visiting their homes.

She also speaks out about how hard it can be for a bereaved father. ‘I knew Steve felt ignored. The only time he ever mentioned it was after the Crimewatch filming, when he quietly said, ‘I’m here as well.’

But she has only praise for the detective who patiently brought Mercer to justice, keeping them informed every step of the way.

She thanks her Tesco colleagues who kept her checkout job open and the people and footballers (of Everton and rivals Liverpool) for their support of the community centre built in Rhys’s name to get local kids into ‘teams, not gangs’.

Mercer was jailed for a minimum of 22 years in December 2008. ‘A lot of people are surprised when I say I don’t believe in the death penalty,’ she writes. ‘But I don’t believe anyone has the right to take somebody else’s life. I believe if you kill you should go to jail and stay in jail. That would be what I would want for Mercer.’