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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star