Leading article: A life claimed by nihilistic violence and malign neglect

The killing of Rhys Jones points to social breakdown in parts of Britain

Share
Related Topics

Like the murder of Baby P and the kidnap of Shannon Matthews, the killing of Rhys Jones has shone an unforgiving spotlight on parts of modern Britain. And what it reveals is not pretty.

The shooting of 11-year-old Rhys, as he cycled home from football practice near his home in Liverpool, in 2007, seemed to come out of a clear blue sky. Like the killing of the toddler, James Bulger, in the same part of the country in 1993, the death provoked national shock, as Rhys was named the youngest victim of gang violence in Britain. But the truth was that, unlike the Bulger killing, such a tragedy was long on the cards.

Violence on the sprawling housing estates of Croxteth and Norris Green had been growing for years before Rhys got caught in the cross-fire. Police had recorded 80 incidents of vandalism and violence linked to two rival gangs in the area. There had even been two killings, in 2004 and 2006. These shootings made little impact on the national consciousness because the victims were gang members and older.

Sean Mercer, who was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment for Rhys's killing, was well known to the police too. He had been stopped on scores of occasions by the authorities and given an anti-social behaviour order for harassing staff at Croxteth Sports Centre. Mercer was also only 16 years old when he set out from his home with a gun to kill a rival.

Yet Mercer was no exception in his youth. Several of his fellow gang members, found guilty this week of helping him to evade arrest, were all teenagers. So we have here a picture of rampant criminality in which the gang members are young enough to be in school, and yet have easy access to firearms. This was the lethal milieu from which this murderer sprang.

But there are deeper social problems here too. It is true that many local Croxteth residents rushed to pass on Mercer's name to the police when Rhys' death hit the headlines. But the manner in which the immediate estate on which Mercer lived closed ranks to help him evade justice, despite the horrendous crime that had been committed, was disturbing. Friends of Mercer helped him destroy physical evidence linking him to the killing. He was given an alibi. It took eight months of police surveillance and the testimony of a disaffected gang member to build the case necessary to put Mercer on trial.

For several residents of this estate, defending one of their own was apparently regarded as more important than bringing the killer of an 11-year-old boy to justice. Why? One of the police officers who worked on the case has noted that "many gang members are the third generation of families who have never worked. Crime is all they know and so have no normality to be rehabilitated into." This small community appears to have turned in on itself.

This gives us some indication of the scale of social breakdown fuelling the sort of nihilistic violence that led to Rhys's death. This is by no means a problem exclusive to poor districts of Liverpool. All around the country there are estates blighted by a culture of chronic welfare dependency, antisocial behaviour and crushing poverty of aspiration. And for decades they have suffered from the malign neglect of the political establishment. Putting this right needs to be a priority for any party with aspirations for power.

We must not treat the terrible death of Rhys Jones as an inexplicable bolt from the blue. It should be a wake-up call.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn