Concerns that innocent people in the Wirral would be 'caught in the crossfire' of warring gangs were voiced by a senior police officer less than two weeks before Elle Edwards was killed at a pub on Christmas Eve. The 26-year-old was with friends at the Lighthouse in Wallasey when a gunman opened fire.
Elle was struck in the head in front of her friends, while four other men were also wounded. Police believe that beautician Elle was not the intended target of the attack.
On Boxing Day, Merseyside Police announced that they had arrested a 30-year-old man on suspicion of murder and a 19-year-old woman on suspicion of conspiracy to murder. Both remain in custody, Liverpool Echo reports.
Gun crime was not a regular occurrence in the Wirral until relatively recently. But police believe warring factions in the local underworld have, for unknown reasons, been more than willing to open fire on their rivals than ever before.
On December 16, the ECHO spoke to Wirral local community policing inspector Alan McKeon about an ongoing operation targeting an organised crime group (OCG) based in the nearby Woodchurch estate. Police believe that members of the group, dubbed the Woodchurch OCG, and Wirral's other main gang, the Ford OCG based around the Beechwood estate, are linked to a series of recent shootings which have left young men with serious, although non-fatal, injuries.
In a chilling hint of what was to follow, Insp. McKeon told the ECHO: "If you have these factional disputes ongoing, and people using firearms in anger towards each other, we've seen in the last 12 months, with Olivia Pratt-Korbel being the obvious example, and even Rhys Jones prior to that and plenty of others in between, there are just absolutely innocent people who get caught in the crossfire of these people.
"And as much as the injury firearms discharges we have seen on the Woodchurch are very much targeted, the reality is I am sure each and every firearms discharge we deal with starts out as intended to be targeted. We can't mitigate for those people who are going about their daily business and might just be in - I hate describing it as the wrong place wrong time because Olivia Pratt-Korbel wasn't in the wrong place, she was in her house - but getting caught in the crossfire between warring factions.
"So for me, the reason why targeting organised criminality on the Woodchurch was a priority is; I certainly don't want anything like that to happen to anyone here."
Merseyside Police have not confirmed whether they are treating Elle's murder as related to local organised crime groups, but disruption activity has ramped up over the previous two days. On Boxing day the force announced it had carried out stop and search operations and open land searches in Wallasey, Woodchurch and Birkenhead in "direct response" to Elle's murder.
Her death marked the fifth fatal shooting in Merseyside since August 16, when 22-year-old Sam Rimmer was killed in Lavrock Bank, Dingle. After that Merseyside was rocked by the atrocious murders of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Dovecot and 28-year-old Ashley Dale in Old Swan, both shot in their own homes by gunmen detectives believe were targeting other people.
Speaking about the mood in Wallasey, local councillor Ian Lewis told the ECHO: "The main focus up to now is getting anybody with any potential evidence or information to feed that into the police. We have been out in the community providing reassurance with the police. There is a lot of sheltered accommodation in that area, a lot of elderly residents, but there isn't so much a sense of fear because the police presence has been so big, you can't move for police in Wallasey village.
"People have expressed their heartfelt shock and sympathy with the victim's family, especially at this time of year, and support for what the police are doing."
In November, 53-year-old grandmother Jackie Rutter was shot dead in Moreton, Wirral, by men believed to have targeted her family. That staggering spate of murders comes after a 13 month gap without any fatal shootings in Merseyside, and against a huge drop in the number of firearms discharges in the county - a figure which reached a 21 year low last year.
Speaking after Elle's death, Detective Superintendent Sue Coombs said: "No family should have to be faced with this ordeal at any time but at Christmas, which should be a time of peace and celebration, it makes is so much harder to bear.
“Our specially trained family liaison officers are supporting the family at this tragic time and we are determined to find those responsible. The investigation is still in the early stages and we are trying to establish a motive and the circumstances surrounding this callous and cold blooded shooting.
“We believe the gunman fired shots at the front entrance to the pub. Minutes later a dark coloured car, possibly an A-Class Mercedes, was seen to leave the pub car park. We are particularly keen to speak to the driver of that car and ask anyone who may have seen it to contact us immediately.
“We will not rest until we find the people responsible for this shooting and I would appeal to anyone who has information or believes they captured something significant on their dashcam, doorbell camera or mobile phone to contact us.
“Our investigation will rely heavily on information we receive from the public and I urge members of the local community, who have any information which could help us, to get in touch so we can bring those responsible for the horrific murder of a young woman at Christmas to justice."
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