Ten years on from a senseless killing that shocked the country, ITV has turned the story into a new four-part drama, which concludes tonight. Little Boy Blue revisits the murder of 11-year-old Liverpool boy Rhys Jones, killed by a local gangster while walking home from football practice.
When is Little Boy Blue on TV?
The fourth and final episode of the series aired on Monday May 15 on ITV1. You can catch up with the series on ITV Player.
How did Rhys Jones die?
On the evening of August 22, 2007, Jones was caught in the conflict between two gangs while crossing a pub car-park. Sean Mercer – a 16-year-old in a group called the Croxteth Crew – began shooting at two members of the rival Strand Gang, while cycling past on a BMX bike. For the two gangs it was a meaningful date, just one day before the anniversary of the murder of a Croxteth Crew member by one of the Strand Gang. But Jones, an innocent bystander, had no idea about the feud. One of Mercer’s stray bullets hit the 11-year-old in the neck, and the thug fled the scene.
One of Jones’s football coaches heard about the shooting, and drove his mother Melanie to the car park where he lay dying. Paramedics spent an hour and a half trying to resuscitate him, but were unable to save the boy’s life.
How did the community react to his death?
The killing sparked a national outcry, and was met with a wave of compassion from the local community. More than 2,500 mourners attended his funeral dressed (at his parents’ suggestion) in bright colours and football strips; members of Rhys’s beloved football club Everton turned up in their team shirts. At a Liverpool’s match against Toulouse FC on August 28, both teams took to the pitch wearing black armbands out of respect.
What do Rhys Jones’s parents think about the show?
Jones’s parents, Melanie and Steve, say that they see the new series as a chance to honour their son. “It is very important to us, and our other son Owen to keep his memory alive,” they said. One part of the story the couple are desperate for the show to capture is the gruelling wait between Jones’s death and the killer’s conviction.
One scene in Little Boy Blue shows how mourners left tributes to Jones at the scene of the crime
One scene in Little Boy Blue shows how mourners left tributes to Jones at the scene of the crime CREDIT: ITV
In the months following their son’s death, Melanie and Steve made several emotional pleas for the killer to come forward, in filmed appearances outside Everton’s home ground Goodison. In the end, it took eight months for Mercer to be charged with the crime. “We wanted to show how the pressure we were placed under, the huge weight of grief thrust upon us, the endless waiting, not knowing if we would get justice for Rhys, can tear a family apart,” they said.
Why did it take so long for the police to charge the murderer?
Although the police received dozens of anonymous tip-off calls naming Mercer as the killer, local youths were too frightened of his gang to name him on the record. Mercer had covered his tracks carefully, burning his clothes and dismantling the bike he rode during the shooting, so there was little hard evidence linking him to the crime.
Just 20 minutes after the murder, he had already found a way to dispose of the weapon. Mercer knew he had to get rid of it quickly: he was already well known to the local police, having been stopped in the street by officers 80 times in the two years leading up to the shooting. While Mrs Jones held her dying son in the car park, the killer was arriving at the home of a local boy with a clean criminal record, whom he forced to take his antique Smith & Wesson revolver.
The terrified boy hid the First World War gun in his dog kennel, later moving it to his attic – where the police discovered it while the teenager was out of the country on a family holiday.
Mercer was arrested just days after the shooting, but released soon afterwards. It wasn’t until eight months after the shooting that he was finally charged, after he was named by the young “supergrass” who had hidden the gun – but it took months for the police to convince the terrified youth to testify. The teenager, known during the trial as Boy X, was given a new name and placed in a witness protection scheme. Remarkably, his lawyers convinced the authorities to waive all the usual rules for anyone caught with a firearm. “We used all the legal tools at our disposal to push at the boundaries of what the legislation allowed us to do,” CPS lawyer Helen Morris later recalled.
Liverpool actor Paddy Rowan (right) plays Sean Mercer (left) in Little Boy Blue
Liverpool actor Paddy Rowan (right) plays Sean Mercer (left) in Little Boy Blue CREDIT: ITV
What happened to Mercer?
Mercer was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years, and remains imprisoned. He was recently moved to HMP Frankland in Durham, where the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe is also incarcerated, but – according to the Sun – is hoping to be transferred to a lower-category jail. One anonymous source told the paper: “He’s not cut out for life with the big boys. That’s why he is so frantic to get out. Frankland has a horrific roster of murderers, gangsters and serial killers.”
Did Jones’s family watch the court case?
Steve and Melanie Jones turned up to every single day of Mercer’s trial. In stark contrast with the animal-like behaviour of Mercer’s gang, the couple were praised at the time for their quiet composure.
“His parents’ dignity throughout this process has been deeply impressive to any of us who have seen it,” said the presiding judge, Mr Justice Irwin. “But it is clear that their composure conceals searing emotions, which we can only guess at, but which those of us who have not lost a child can hardly understand.”
There was only one moment in the trial which proved too difficult to watch. Melanie Jones fled the courtroom before a crucial piece of evidence was presented – the eight-second CCTV clip which showed the moment of Rhys Jones’s death.
What happened next for DSI Dave Kelly?
As well as solving the Rhys Jones case, detective Dave Kelly also helmed the investigation that led to the conviction of Liverpool murderer, kidnapper and attempted blackmailer Daniel Breaks in 2009. It was one of the most memorable cases in recent criminal history.
Breaks had beaten his sister’s boyfriend Simon Sutton to death, and forced her sons to stamp on his dying body. The killer believed Sutton had “grassed” on him over a scheme to blackmail HSBC, and later invited his mother and friends around to show them the corpse, telling them: “That is what happens to grasses.”
Kelly would later describe Breaks as “a cold, calculated individual,” telling reporters, “He tortured Mr Sutton in the hours leading up to his death and he involved members of the family in the torture, which is despicable.”
After the murder, Breaks abducted a retired probation officer and his wife, threatening them at knife-point before driving the terrified pensioners to London. The killer swigged alcohol while he drove, reaching speeds up to 125mph as he swerved to avoid other cars. After the sentence was passed, Kelly said outside the court: “I am delighted with the verdict and with the sentence today,” sharing his sympathies with “the families who have been severely impacted by the actions of one member.”
Who stars in Little Boy Blue?
The drama stars This Is England’s Stephen Graham as Dave Kelly, the detective who led the inquiry into Jones’s murder, while Melanie and Steve Jones are played by Sinead Keenan and Brian F. O’Byrne. Sean Mercer and Rhys Jones are played by two young Liverpudlian actors, Paddy Rowan and Sonny Beyga.
Who are the team behind it?
Little Boy Blue is written by Oscar-nominee Jeff Pope, and directed by Paul Whittington, who helmed BBC One’s recent hit retelling of the Shannon Matthews case, The Moorside. But the driving force behind it is Bafta-winning producer Kwado Dajan (Appropriate Adult), who has been planning the show since 2009, when he first made contact with Kelly.
“It took a number of years and a lot of research and meetings with Mel, Steve and Dave Kelly,” Dajan told the Liverpool Echo. “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.”
Little Boy Blue concludes on ITV at 9pm on Monday 15 May.