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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Neil Docking

Encrochat gangster 'LimeEagle' set up pizza delivery driver shooting

A drug dealer organised a gangland hit when an innocent man was gunned down by a fake pizza delivery driver.

The victim was shot in the leg by a thug who knocked on his front door and shouted "pizza delivery" while holding fast food boxes. Norris Green "fixer" Lewis Fitzpatrick, who arranged the botched hit in Warrington, was today locked up for 26 years over the shocking attack and EncroChat drug plots.

Liam Byrne Junior was the intended target of a gang who travelled from Liverpool to Poplars Avenue in Orford, on the evening of April 24, 2020. But convicted heroin dealer Byrne Jr - believed to be an associate of notorious gun and drug crooks Anthony and Leon Cullen - was not at home.

READ MORE: Royal Marines smuggled kilos of cannabis in Navy van

His stepdad, David Barnes, 56, instead opened the door. He was suspicious because he hadn't ordered a takeaway and his stepson had been warned by police of a threat to his life. As he tried to close the door, the disguised hitman - Everton soldier Aaron Bretherton - fired up to four shots.

Liverpool Crown Court heard one gunshot hit the floor, while another bullet travelled through the door and hit Mr Barnes in the lower right leg – shattering his tibia and fibula. Bretherton, 24, his getaway driver Anthony Morris, 23, and 27-year-old Fitzpatrick - all convicted after a trial last year - escaped in a Transit van, taken from the garage where Morris worked.

As they fled the scene, Morris' mobile phone was used to search online for terms including "shooting in Warrington". Fitzpatrick was said to be a go-between those who ordered the shooting and his co-accused. He had joined serving soldier Bretherton on a reconnaissance mission to the area earlier that day.

Prosecutors have said the attack on Byrne Jr was ordered over EncroChat by an alleged gangland boss, who cannot be named for legal reasons. Phil Barnes, prosecuting, today described how the hit was "part of a dispute over who controlled the supply of drugs in the Warrington area".

EncroChat messages between the conspirators uncovered a second planned hit on Charlie Cullen - the dad of Leon and Anthony Cullen. Leon Cullen was jailed for 22 and a half years in May last year, having been captured in the United Arab Emirates, after nearly two years on the run. Anthony Cullen was locked up for 27 years in 2019.

Hours after the Poplars Avenue shooting, another unidentified conspirator posing as a pizza man attended a property in Sinclair Avenue in Longford, Warrington, which the Cullens' father owned, but rented out to tenants. They left after being told Mr Cullen didn't live there.

The attack on Byrne Jr also involved Merseyside cocaine lord brothers John and Alan Tobin, who helped to plot the shooting by supplying his home address. Detectives found messages showing that Alan Tobin had provided pictures of Liam Byrne Jnr and his father Liam Byrne Snr, their addresses, satellite images of where they lived and even vehicle registration numbers.

Aaron Bretherton, 24, of Netherfield Road South in Everton, was convicted of conspiracy to inflict grievous bodily harm (Cheshire Police)

Further messages suggested John Tobin was also involved in the flow of information. However, his exchanges did not mention details, or share an awareness, of any attack.

Morris, of Fifth Avenue in Fazakerley, was arrested when his van was pulled over by police in Southport two days after the incident, while Bretherton and Fitzpatrick were caught at their homes in May 2020. A Glock 19, 9mm handgun was recovered from the extractor of the cooker in Bretherton's Netherfield Road South, Everton apartment, while ammunition and a magazine were found in the fan in the bathroom.

A Glock pistol found at the home of Aaron Bretherton (cheshire police)

Gunpowder residue was also discovered on a Prada jacket and a backpack inside the flat, as was £5,000 of cash and a smoke grenade. A further £4,000 in cash was recovered from Fitzpatrick's address in Eldersfield Road, Norris Green.

Fitzpatrick was convicted of conspiracies to cause grievous bodily harm and to supply firearms and ammunition. He also fell to be sentenced today for conspiracies to supply kilo amounts of ketamine and cannabis.

He admitted these on the basis he was a "go-between", effectively a "broker" of deals between buyers and sellers. Mr Barnes said this was under his EncroChat handle "LimeEagle" and messages from April 2020 showed him talking about secret compartments in vehicles, "hides", to transport drugs.

Fitzpatrick has previous convictions including theft, assault causing actual bodily harm and criminal damage, and in 2016 he was spared jail for a commercial burglary. Gary Bell, QC, defending, said there was a period after that when his client got a job and met a partner, with whom he had three children, but she "not surprisingly is no longer with him".

Police Scientific Support Officers in the garden of a house on Poplars Avenue. (Liverpool Echo)

He said Fitzpatrick, who acted as a carer for his sister, got involved as a "runner" for the gang. Mr Bell said: "He was an important conduit between those in charge of the gang and in this case Mr Bretherton.

"It has to be accepted he played an important role in putting people together. He knew exactly what he was doing."

Judge Stuart Driver, QC, told Fitzpatrick: "There was significant planning and you played a leading role in a group activity. "The incident involved a very high level of violence, endangering life - planned and done for money. You knew your group had shot an innocent man, but you showed no remorse."

Judge Driver found Fitzpatrick was "dangerous", as defined in law, and jailed him for 26 years, with an extended five years on licence. This means he must spend at least two thirds of the sentence - just over 17 years - behind bars, before he can apply for parole.

Bretherton was jailed for 22 years, with an extended five years on licence, in September. Morris was jailed for 14 years.

Alan Tobin, 52, formerly of Regency Park, Widnes, was jailed for eight years for his role in the plots, consecutive to the 20-year prison sentence he is serving for his drug dealing. John Tobin, 41, formerly of Manor Road in Prescot, was handed two and a half years in prison, consecutive to his existing 19 years and eight months term for their drug empire.

*A previous version of this article stated, as was said in court, that Fitzpatrick was spared jail in 2016 for burgling a home. It was in fact a commercial burglary. We are happy to correct this.

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