Rhys Jones killer's father questioned over attack

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The father of Rhys Jones's killer has been arrested over a petrol bomb attack on the home of a fellow gang member who was convicted alongside his son.

Joe McCormick, 56, was questioned by Merseyside Police after the family home of fellow Croxteth gang member Gary Kays was petrol-bombed over the weekend.

McCormick's son Sean Mercer was jailed for life last year for the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones who was shot in the neck as he returned from football practice in the Croxteth Park area of Liverpool.

Rhys was killed because he strayed into a bullet fired by Mercer at rival gang members from nearby Norris Green who had wandered into his gang's patch. Kays had telephoned Mercer minutes earlier to tell them that rivals had strayed into their territory and later helped the teenage killer get rid of incriminating evidence.

An arson enquiry began this week after a petrol bomb was thrown through a downstairs window of the Kays' family home on Mallard Avenue in the early hours of Saturday morning. Kays' father – who is also called Gary – and his mother Patricia were on holiday at the time in north Wales but the couple's 16-year-old daughter Kelly and her boyfriend were inside and had to douse the flames.

Earlier this week Merseyside Police arrested a 56-year-old man on suspicion of committing arson with intent and bailed him pending further enquiries. Sources yesterday said the man was Mercer's father, McCormick, who famously mouthed the words "I love you" after his son was told he would spend a minimum of 22 years behind bars for killing Rhys Jones.

Kays, now 26, was unanimously convicted of two counts of assisting an offender after he helped Mercer wash gunshot residue off his arms and burned the clothing he was wearing at an industrial lock up. Five other fellow gang members were also convicted of helping Mercer cover his tracks.

When police began investigating the killing they initially came up against a wall of silence from locals, many of whom knew who the killer was but were either too scared or too loyal to gang codes to testify.

Mercer's mother, Janette, was also jailed earlier this year for lying to detectives about her son.

During the trial last year McCormick, a physical training instructor and a bouncer, was regularly seen chatting with Kays' parents but it is believed their relationship has since soured following their sons' convictions. A source with local knowledge of the two families yesterday said McCormick blamed Gary Kays Jnr for his son's incarceration because of the telephone call that lead to Mercer killing Rhys Jones.

The 11-year-old's murder shocked the nation and provoked a fierce debate about the level of gang crime in deprived urban areas.

McCormick was arrested at his home address, on the edge of Liverpool city centre, on Sunday night. He was questioned on suspicion of committing arson with intent to endanger life throughout Monday before being released on bail pending further inquiries.