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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Eleanor Barlow

How escalation in gang crime led to death of Elle Edwards

PA Media

Escalating violence between rival gangs led to an innocent woman being shot with a sub-machine gun outside a pub on Christmas Eve.

The death of beautician Elle Edwards, 26, shot by Connor Chapman on Christmas Eve, was the final incident in a series of attacks in Wirral, Merseyside, last year.

Superintendent Matthew Moscrop told the PA news agency challenges with criminal gangs in Wirral had escalated in recent years and particularly in 2022, when Ms Edwards’ death marked the end of a year which had also seen the death of Jacqueline Rutter, 53, in what police believe was a targeted shooting in Moreton, Wirral.

In the months since the shooting police have been working with communities to crack down on the gangs operating in their areas, he said.

The jury in the trial of Chapman, 23, heard he launched the attack outside the Lighthouse pub in Wallasey Village shortly before midnight in what was the culmination of a feud between groups on the Woodchurch estate and the Beechwood, or Ford, estate, on opposing sides of the M53.

The father-of-two, who grew up on the Woodchurch estate, told his trial the trouble between the two estates was part of something which happened “near enough a year to the day” of Ms Edwards’ death.

In December 2021, Chapman spent his fourth Christmas in a row in custody and PA understands that while there his mother’s house was burgled and Chapman, in a rap video, threatened to get revenge.

Chapman, who has  previous convictions for burglary, possession of a knife, possession of drugs, aggravated vehicle-taking and breaches of an anti-social behaviour order, began selling cocaine when he was released from prison in summer 2022, he told the court.

In October last year he was given a gang injunction, preventing him from spending time on the Woodchurch estate or associating with named individuals.

However, Nigel Power KC, prosecuting, described the order as “about as much use as a chocolate teapot”, being treated with “utter contempt” by the defendant.

Chapman admitted being involved in a burglary in November last year, with a video which was not played before the jury showing him smiling in front of stolen electric bikes in the aftermath.

Five days later, Curtis Byrne, one of the other men involved in the burglary, was shot.

The same gun was used to shoot another man, Kieran Cowley, on December 18 outside the home of Mason Smith – the third burglar.

The day before the shooting which would take Ms Edwards’ life, another man linked to Woodchurch, Sam Searson, was attacked in the street by Kieran Salkeld and Jake Duffy, who would go on to be seriously injured outside the Lighthouse.

Chapman used a stolen Mercedes, which he described as a “pool car” for him and his criminal associates, and a Skorpion sub-machine gun, capable of firing 15 rounds per second, to carry out the Christmas Eve attack which shocked the community.

Mr Moscrop said: “The murder of Elle Edwards was absolutely horrific. What happened on Christmas Eve, the impact on the community was massive.”

Since the shooting, police and partners have been working to tackle organised crime groups in Wirral as part of the EVOLVE project, which follows on from similar initiatives launched in Liverpool and Knowsley following the fatal shootings of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, council worker Ashley Dale, 28, and Sam Rimmer, 22, last summer.

A pilot project was launched on the Beechwood estate last year, but Mr Moscrop said work had ramped up since the start of 2023, with more partners coming on board.

The support from the public, he said, had been “brilliant”.

He said: “People aren’t tolerant of this.

“When people realise the implications, that people are losing their lives and being seriously injured because of this, then they will provide intelligence.”

In the six months since Ms Edwards’ death, there have been no shootings in Wirral.

Mr Moscrop said he believed there was a number of factors, including the arrest and subsequent conviction of a number of people.

He said: “We know from activity and intelligence, criminals are having to change what they are doing and are deterred from operating in Wirral.”

With Chapman behind bars, Mr Moscrop said it was key to ensure other criminal gangs could not get a foothold in Wirral.

He added: “We need to break the model by which gangs are recruiting young people. They need to see if they commit crime it’s not a route to success and glory, it’s a route to jail and misery.”

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