A producer who worked on the drama based on the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones said the people of Liverpool “truly showed what they were made of” during its filming.
Kwadjo Dajan, who has 20 years experience as a documentary and drama producer, spoke to the ECHO about the impending ITV drama – Little Boy Blue – and what happened behind the scenes of Little Boy Blue.
Young Everton fan Rhys Jones was shot in 2007, while on his way home from football practice.
He was crossing the Fir Tree pub car park, in the Croxteth Park estate, when he was shot by 16-year-old Sean Mercer , who was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 22 years, for his murder.
Mr Dajan said he remembers “very clearly” the day the schoolboy was shot.
He said: “I keep an eye on all news stories generally but I remember very clearly the day Rhys was shot.
“I turned on the news and was just appalled at what I saw.
“It was at a time when there was a lot of gang shootings and stabbings, but what really struck me about this was it was a boy, who was coming home from football and had nothing to do with any gang activity and he was shot by someone who was actually looking for someone else.
“It really shocked me.”
Following the trial of Rhys’s killer and those who assisted him, Mr Dajan made contact with Dave Kelly, who had been the Chief Superintendent on the case.
He said: “It was around the end of January, in 2009, that I contacted Dave Kelly and at first he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be interviewed about the story, but he said if Mel and Steve, Rhys’s parents, gave their consent then he would speak to me.”
Over several years and on many occasions Mr Dajan met with Rhys’s parents, who endorsed the project and wanted to keep Rhys’s memory alive.
He added: “It took a number of years and a lot of research and meetings with Mel, Steve and Dave Kelly.
“The more we got out of the story the more invested we became in it.
“We were continually guided by the family, they were in the heart of everything we did.
“They gave us such honest and open accounts and you only had to speak to them and spend time with them to see how tragic this case was.
“It devastated the family and had a massive impact on not just Liverpool but the whole country.
“So the family was always at the forefront of everything we did.”
Also working with Mr Dajan was BAFTA award-winning screenwriter and executive producer, Jeff Pope, who worked closely with the family and those involved in bringing the drama to life.
But it was the people of Liverpool that really stood out in the filming process said Mr Dajan.
He added: “It is a well known saying with Scousers that they are very protective of their own.
“And that is something that was very evident throughout filming.
“Every person that we spoke to through the production, from as little as finding a location, the first thing they asked us was ‘what does the family think about it?’
“The minute people realised that the family had given us their blessing everyone wanted to help us.”
Mr Dajan said a key factor in telling Rhys’s story was to make people watching aware of the wider impact the tragedy had.
He said: “For the family this was their son’s legacy and he was robbed of his future.
“It wasn’t a simple case of a boy gets shot, there is an investigation, it goes to trial, proven guilty and then that’s the end.
“It is the ripple effect caused by what happened that we wanted to portray.
“This was a series of bad choices, the man who did it and the friends and family who perverted the course of justice.
“With a case like this it’s not just a mistake it’s the continuation of mistakes.
“The big lesson from all of this is actions have reactions.”
A number of open castings were held in Liverpool to form the actors, who would play the characters involved such as; Sinéad Keenan and Brian F. O’Byrne, who play Rhys’ parents and Stephen Graham as Chief Superintendent Dave Kelly.
But Mr Dajan said it was “very important” for local Liverpool actors to be involved.
He said: “One of the things that we were all really proud of was the number of local actors.
“A lot of these actors had never acted before, they were first time actors.
“We held a lot of open castings around Liverpool and that was in order to get the authenticity across and it was something that we felt really strong about.
“We wanted people to be able to buy into the characters.
“These actors were people that had actually lived this and understood the sensitivity of it and that was really special.”
The tragic case of Rhys’s murder shocked the nation and Mr Dajan said there were many occasions that the cast and crew were “physically moved” during filming.
One of the most poignant times he said was the re-creation of the minute of applause for Rhys, which was held at Everton’s football ground Goodison Park.
He said: “That moment still sends tingles through me now.
“38,000 people stayed behind during half time and took part in that.
“It was a recreation but we could see people in the crowd showing true emotion and this is for something that happened 10 years ago, but that is the impact that this case has.
“There were people that were there the first time around and they had and showed that same emotion that they had back then.
“That scene was such a big, big part of what we did.
“In the cast there were so many who supported various clubs around the country, but I think we all went away with a little bit of Everton Football Club in our hearts after that, because they had so much class.”
Mr Dajan added: “The support from Liverpool and its people, that really came through during this filming.
“They all really showed us what they were made of for this production.
“I think it is impossible to film in Liverpool and the city not become a character itself and that is because of its people.”
The first, of four parts, of Little Boy Blue will air on ITV at 9pm on Monday, April 24.