Police 'broke promise to station mobile unit in car park where boy was shot'

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The killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones could have been prevented if police had kept a promise to station a mobile patrol unit at the car park where he was killed, a resident said yesterday.

The accusation came from a solicitor who sits on the Croxteth Country Park residents' association and lives on the same road as the Jones family.

Emma Ahmed, 33, said that the mobile police centre to target youth crime was due to have arrived in April.

The criticism of the police came as the city of Liverpool continued to mourn. Rhys's brother Owen was among those paying their respects at the scene where the young boy was shot. The 17-year-old laid a bouquet and Everton FC rug alongside hundreds of other floral tributes.

Rhys died on Wednesday night after being shot in the back of the neck by a teenage gunman on a BMX bike. His killing is one of series of violent crimes involving teenagers that have shocked the nation and prompted debate on the level of violence in towns and cities.

Yesterday in Sunderland three people - a 21-year-old, a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old, were charged over the gang murder of a 23-year-old man who suffered from learning difficulties.

And in Tottenham, north London, three teenagers were treated in hospital after being shot by a gunman outside a house party. None of their injuries were thought to be life-threatening.

In Liverpool though, the sense of loss remained tangible as residents expressed frustration over local policing. The proposed police unit that Croxteth residents say might have prevented Rhys Jones's murder was cancelled at the last minute when police said they did not have the resources to staff it, said Ms Ahmed.

"I live in the same street as Rhys did, and he played on the grass outside my house. I feel very strongly that he's been let down by this", Ms Ahmed said. "There is no doubt in my mind that he wouldn't have died if the police pod had been there", she said, "it would have been just yards from where he was."

"They [the police] need to accept that sometimes these decisions can backfire, and have dire consequences" said Ms Ahmed. "A number of people have said to me since that it wouldn't have happened if that had been there".

The £22,000 of funding had been approved to build the unit, and permission had been given by the pub landlord to use a portion of the car park for the site. But when the residents' association announced to the community that the pod would be arriving in April, police said they did not have the resources to follow the project through.

The nearest police station is at Aintree, a 15-minute drive away, and the area lost its local policeman, "Robbie the Bobbie", two years ago. Ms Ahmed said that the community had been becoming concerned by the lack of police presence. "It was rare that you ever saw police on the estate", she said. "The residents said loud and clear that we needed to have more police."

The vicar at the heart of the community spoke yesterday at one of two special church services for the boy and his family. The Rev David Leslie asked his parishioners to make time for each other: "We need to apply critical thinking for a society where we find people are valued more for what they have rather than what they are."

He added: "That might not go all the way to explaining this dreadful event but points at how more stable role models, who used to be around, have largely melted away." Worshippers had gathered in Emmaus Primary school, because St Cuthbert's Church was still cordoned off as part of the crime scene.

Police said yesterday they had traced and interviewed the key witness seen pushing a pram near the Fir Tree pub minutes before Rhys was killed. The news followed the release of a 15-year-old boy on bail earlier in the day. Five people remain in custody on suspicion of murder: three males, one aged 16 and two aged 19, and two females aged 15 and 18.