The Czech Skorpion machine guns that fire 15 rounds a SECOND and a city that’s sick of drug gangs: As a Liverpool thug is jailed for shooting nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel to death, fears mount over the military-grade weapons flooding Merseyside
- Police have revealed the scourge of machine guns used by the city’s drugs gangs
- Last year three people in Merseyside were killed by Skorpion machine pistols
Giving evidence in court, Thomas Cashman told the jury: ‘I’m not a killer, I’m a dad.’ The inference they were supposed to draw was clear.
What sort of a man would risk taking the life of another – let alone a child – by firing a gun in a residential street? Perhaps the very same man who would think nothing of recklessly unleashing a hail of bullets in a drive-by shooting close to a children’s playground.
Because it can now be revealed, the court heard, that detectives found evidence that Cashman may have been involved in another botched attempt to kill Joseph Nee – two weeks before nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel was shot dead.
The first failed ‘hit’ took place in broad daylight close to a primary school and playground in the next street to Olivia’s house.
The incident involved a gunman, armed with a self-loading Glock pistol, opening fire from a dark car on a man who was riding an e-bike.
Thomas Cashman is seen running down Finch Lane in Liverpool the night of Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s murder
Cashman, pictured here in his police mugshot, was found guilty of murdering Olivia and injuring her mother
Miraculously, nobody was injured in the attack and the gunman escaped. But police say bullet casings recovered from the scene matched some of those used by Cashman on the night Olivia was murdered. It is believed that Nee, a convicted drug dealer, was the intended target, and Cashman may have been the hitman on this occasion too.
At the time, police promised to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in the hunt for the gunman.
But – if he was the culprit that night – it didn’t bother Cashman in the slightest.
Just a fortnight later – armed and ready to kill – he headed out on to the streets of Liverpool with Nee the target once again. The fact that Cashman was indeed a ‘dad’ clearly counted for nothing.
Nor did the knowledge that the city in which he was born and bred had seen too many innocent young people fall victim to gun crime – most recently at the hands of criminals armed with devastating Czech-made machine pistols.
READ MORE HERE: How Thomas Cashman’s former lover told police he took refuge at her home after little Olivia was murdered and demanded change of clothes
Indeed, in a tragic coincidence, Olivia’s death at Cashman’s hand would occur 15 years to the day that 11-year-old Rhys Jones was gunned down as he walked home from football practice.
Rhys’s killer, Sean Mercer, then 16, had been trying to shoot a member of a rival gang with a battered World War I revolver. The fatal shot was fired just two miles from Olivia’s home.
Such was the outrage, that at the time many in the community vowed it would mark a ‘watershed moment’ in Liverpool’s fightback against armed crime.
But Cashman’s actions on the night of August 22 last year showed how far that fight still has to run. And how drugs, and the violence they bring with them, continue to wreak havoc on society. Cashman’s adult life had been one shaped by criminality. The son of a meat porter, he was raised in council housing a 15-minute walk from Olivia’s home. He left school aged 14, finding work delivering newspapers and washing cars before getting a job on fairgrounds in Wales.
Within a couple of years he was smoking cannabis on a daily basis. Selling it, he said, was ‘a natural progression’.
Cashman met his future partner – Kayleeanne Sweeney, also now 34 – when they were barely out of primary school, and they were still teenagers when she first became pregnant. The couple have a son aged 14 and a four-year-old daughter.
He told the jury he tried to ‘change my life around’ and stop dealing drugs when he became a father, dabbling instead in selling cars. But it didn’t last.
The rewards offered by a criminal lifestyle saw to that.
The killer, pictured here being arrested by police, claimed police were stitching him up when he was taken into custody
The father-of-two, pictured here in a court sketch on Thursday, sobbed as he was found guilty of murder
Olivia was shot in the chest by Cashman moments after telling her mother ‘I’m scared’. She died soon after
By the time of the shooting he was earning up to £5,000 a week selling ‘kilos’ of cannabis to contacts living around Finch Lane – the main road at the top of Olivia’s street. His life of crime helped enable him and Ms Sweeney to afford to live in a £450,000 detached house on an upmarket development where neighbours drive Bentleys and Teslas.
The couple are understood to have been paying £2,000-a-month for the four-bed rented property from the end of 2021, with Ms Sweeney driving a Land Rover Discovery Sport.
READ MORE HERE: Olivia killer’s childhood sweetheart, 34, who is mother of his two young children leaves court after guilty verdict
In addition, they were renting a luxury two-bed apartment in a block overlooking the River Mersey and frequently travelled abroad for holidays.
Asked in court whether Ms Sweeney knew the source of his extraordinary wealth – more than seven times the average salary for the area – Cashman replied: ‘She never asked me, I never told her.’
At the time of the shooting, Ms Sweeney had her own cosmetics clinic. However, the business was dissolved just days before Cashman was charged with murder.
Giving evidence, he attempted to justify his £250,000 annual earnings by saying he was not ‘a bad person’ as he didn’t sell class A drugs. He would also insist that he had nothing do with Olivia’s shooting, and that at the time of the killing he had been at a friend’s house counting out £10,000 in cash and smoking cannabis.
But the prosecution claimed he was the gunman and that on the night in question he had once again been in pursuit of Nee. What motivated the attempts on his target’s life is unclear.
During his trial, Cashman told the jury he was just a local cannabis dealer who did not really have any underworld enemies.
But Liverpool-based crime sources have claimed that he had built a reputation on Merseyside as a ‘man with a gun’. It was separately reported on Thursday that Cashman was an enforcer in one of the UK’s most powerful and secretive drug gangs.
Known as the Huyton mafia, the Sun claimed that Cashman had worked for the crime group which was born in the Stockbridge Village area of Knowsley, Merseyside in the 1990s.
Police and the UK’s ‘FBI’ have been at war with the gang for the last decade. The house where Olivia was shot dead, in the Dovecot area, was reportedly in the heart of the gang’s territory, a neighbourhood in the stranglehold of brutal drug dealers.
Nee himself had a lengthy criminal past. In 2009, he was jailed for six-and-a-half years for serving as a ‘foot soldier’ in a multi-million-pound drugs gang.
In 2018, he was jailed for 45 months over a string of burglaries which culminated in a 125mph police chase. He is understood to have been freed from prison on licence in 2020. The court heard Nee and his family ‘had their enemies’ and it was not the first time he had been targeted in a shooting.
Detectives say Cashman’s subsequent admission to a witness that someone was ‘coming for him’ and he wanted to get to them first is as near as they have to a motive.
The day before Olivia was killed council worker Ashley Dale was fatally shot by a Skorpion machine pistol. Pictured: A 9mm semi-auto CZ Skorpion EVO 3 S1 pistol-carbine
Council worker Ashley Dale (pictured) was shot to death in her own back garden a day before Olivia was killed
Possibly, with his first attempt having failed, Cashman was determined to save face and do the job properly. What happened next repulsed Britain.
Running along Kingsheath Avenue on that fateful night last August, Cashman opened fire at Nee with the Glock. Hearing the gunshots, Olivia’s mother Cheryl Korbel opened her front door to see what was happening – only to be confronted with Nee who, seeing the door was ajar, ran towards their house.
READ MORE HERE: How Thomas Cashman who lived life of luxury from £5,000-a-week trade tried to murder convicted burglar near primary school and playground two weeks before nine-year-old’s killing in botched ‘hit’
It was a warm night and Olivia had been struggling to get to sleep, saying she was too hot. When the commotion happened she was at the bottom of the stairs, telling her mother: ‘I’m scared mummy, I’m scared.’ As Ms Korbel went back inside and tried in vain to shut the door, two shots were fired by Cashman using a second gun, a revolver. One bullet became lodged in the door, the other hit Ms Korbel in the hand before striking the schoolgirl in the chest.
As Ms Korbel tried to shield her daughter Nee burst through her front door followed by Cashman. Nee was shot in the leg and torso but survived. The gunman then fled, running across back gardens to escape.
Inside the house, what had happened became sickeningly apparent. Ms Korbel said: ‘The door flew open, I was huddled over the baby [Olivia] because I couldn’t lift her by myself because of my arm.’
She added: ‘There was blood everywhere. I knew it wasn’t right. I lifted her top and that’s when I knew she’d been shot in the chest.’ Neighbour Adele Maher described seeing, from her bedroom window, a man dressed in ‘all black from head to toe’ chasing another man.
‘He was running with an arm stretched out in front of him,’ she told police. ‘Seconds later I heard another two loud noises followed by the worst screaming I’ve ever heard in my life. I think it was women screaming, hysterical, out of control. It threw me into an instant panic because I knew then something bad had happened.’
She added: ‘I could hear Chloe, my neighbour Cheryl’s daughter, on the phone to someone. She sounded distraught. She was saying: ‘Where are they? Where are they? She’s dying’. I realised then that something must have happened at Cheryl’s house.’
Arrested and charged, Cashman continued to deny any involvement in the killing. But during the trial the evidence of a former lover proved crucial in linking him to the crime. The woman told how soon after the shooting Cashman came to her house and changed his clothes and that she heard him say he had ‘done Joey’.
Cashman told the court she was a ‘woman scorned’ and accused her of lying because she wanted to ‘ruin’ his life.
Rhys Jones, pictured, was shot by 16-year-old Sean Mercer on his way home from football practice in Croxteth, Liverpool, in 2007
Speaking after the trial, Detective Superintendent Mark Baker, of Merseyside Police, praised the woman’s bravery. He said: ‘We hoped and prayed, through our witness appeal, that a witness of this nature would come forward. She showed incredible bravery. Probably in my 30-year service, I’ve never seen such bravery.’
The court heard that other potential witnesses were so scared of going to court that the prosecution had had to apply for witness summonses. That sense of fear was also felt in the community where Olivia was gunned down. There, residents have described how they have started wearing makeshift bullet-proof vests to go to the shops because they are so frightened of gun crime.
Police have also revealed how feuding gangs across Merseyside have resorted to using military-grade weapons as they fight over the lucrative drugs trade.
During 2022, there were 49 shootings across Merseyside, according to police, including five incidents where people lost their lives.
The day before Olivia’s death, council worker Ashley Dale was killed in her back garden in a shooting in which she was not believed to be the intended target. And on Christmas Eve in Wallasey, Wirral, Elle Edwards was fatally injured when a gunman opened fire outside the Lighthouse pub.
Both women, as well as 22-year-old Sam Rimmer, who was killed in the same week as Olivia and Ms Dale, were shot by criminals using powerful Skorpion machine pistols – which can fire 15 rounds a second.
Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Serena Kennedy, said: ‘I am concerned about the type of weaponry that we’re seeing on the streets of Merseyside.
‘So we know that Skorpion firearms appeared on UK soil in about 2021. It is frightening in terms of the way those Skorpion weapons work in terms of the fact that they can discharge over ten bullets in a matter of seconds.
‘I think we are seeing the impact of those weapons on the streets of Merseyside. We know that they’ve been used eight times over the past two years.’
Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Kameen said of the Czech-manufactured pistols: ‘If you start bringing that sort of battlefield military weaponry into communities and discharging it… you add that to the chaotic nature, lack of training, no moral compass – [then] the last three times a Skorpion has been used in Merseyside someone’s been killed every single time.
‘Is it any wonder when this gun’s firing 12 or 13 rounds in less than a second?’ He urged communities to come forward if they had any information about where firearms were being kept.
‘We are hell-bent on trying to get these weapons off the street and hell-bent on trying to tackle serious organised crime,’ he said.
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