Police bail teenagers questioned over death

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The Independent Online

Two teenagers aged 14 and 18 were released on bail last night after being questioned about the murder of Rhys Jones, the schoolboy who was shot dead in a pub car park by a gunman on a BMX bicycle.

The 11-year-old had cut across the car park while on his way home from a youth team practice match in an adjoining park when he was shot in the neck, apparently at random, at about 7.30pm on Wednesday by a hooded teenager. Rhys is the youngest person to be shot dead in Merseyside.

One witness said the killer had coolly held his weapon, a large handgun, steady with two hands while firing three shots at his victim before riding off.

The murder, which was being investigated by 300 officers from Merseyside Police, was the latest in a series of fatal shootings and stabbings where young people have been the victims. Six teenagers have been murdered with guns in London since February while Liverpool was earlier this year listed by the Home Office alongside Manchester as the British city with the greatest availability of illegal guns.

Police said they were in the early stages of a "protracted and complicated" investigation and further arrests could be expected. The two youths under arrest were detained in the early hours of yesterday in the Croxteth area, a sprawling housing estate in the north of the city where there have previously been problems with gangs and gun violence. It is understood that several lines of inquiry are being pursued, including the possibility that Rhys was killed in a horrific prank or as part of a gang initiation act.

But while parts of Croxteth suffer from urban deprivation and blight, the adjoining Croxteth Park estate where Rhys lived with his parents and 17-year-old brother, Owen, is a leafy suburb of carefully tended bungalows and detached houses with manicured lawns.

The schoolboy, who was due to start secondary school next month after leaving his primary school with glowing SATs results, was still wearing his football boots as he rushed home.

Neighbours said Rhys, an avid Everton fan who held ambitions of playing for the Premiership side, had been excited about watching the England vs Germany match on television at 8pm and was rushing to get to his family's £250,000 semi-detached home some 500 yards from the pub.

One witness, a 42-year-old businessman, said: "I saw a teenager on a bicycle pull up ­ he was 20 yards from me. I heard a bang and thought it was a firework. Then, as we looked round, he fired two more shots at his victim. He held both hands on the gun. He never flinched."

A procession of friends and classmates passed through the police tape surrounding the scene to lay flowers as forensic science officers worked behind a white tent covering the spot where the schoolboy fell.

Last night, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith appeared close to tears after watching the boy's parents talk of their grief at a press conference. She said she felt "terrible" about the death, and a sense of responsibility in its wake. Earlier, she told Channel 4 News: "I am willing to consider anything that will help us to get the information to put people away."

* Police arrested six people over a street shooting yesterday morning which left two people seriously wounded. Armed officers raced to the scene of the attack in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. Five men and a woman were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.