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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Jonathan Humphries & Adam Everett

Man who helped Thomas Cashman to cover up Olivia Pratt-Korbel's murder jailed

Paul Russell has been jailed for helping Thomas Cashman in his attempts to cover up the murder of Olivia Pratt-Korbel.

The 41-year-old disposed of clothing worn by the child killer and drove him back to his van following the fatal shooting of the nine-year-old girl inside her own home on Kingsheath Avenue in Dovecot on the evening of August 22 last year. He pleaded guilty to assisting an offender in October, with the gunman having been unanimously convicted of murdering the schoolgirl by a jury last month.

Russell, of Snowberry Road, was today imprisoned for 22 months at Liverpool Crown Court. Appearing via video link to an undisclosed prison, he showed no reaction as the sentence was passed - while Olivia's dad John Pratt said "joke" before leaving the courtroom.

READ MORE: Paul Russell live updates as man who helped Thomas Cashman cover his tracks faces sentence

Sentencing, Justice Amanda Yip said: "Gun crime is always serious. As this and other cases demonstrate, when firearms are discharged, fatalities and injuries can be caused to anyone - including those with no connection to whatever has motivated the shooting.

"The use of guns also spreads fear in the wider community. Those who assist offenders who use guns must expect to be imprisoned.

"In most cases, sentences will be substantial. That message needs to be understood.

"In your case, there is a balance to be struck. After discovering the dreadful truth that an innocent child had lost her life, you came forward to the police.

"You named Mr Cashman despite genuine fear of consequences for you and your family. You cooperated with the authorities and were willing to give evidence.

"You accepted your own guilt. All of this puts you in a very different situation to others who have chosen to remain silent.

"Your willingness to come forward and to assist demonstrates a recognition of the suffering caused to Olivia’s family and the courage to overcome your fears to do the right thing once you knew a child had died. I am satisfied that your cooperation with the authorities has come at the cost of a serious and real threat to you.

"You now face an uncertain future. Upon your release, you will not be allowed to return to Merseyside and will lose contact with family and friends.

"You will have to live under a new identity. You have suffered and will continue to suffer real interference with your family life."

Tom Schofield, defending, earlier told the court that his client was "genuinely terrified of Cashman" and "provided begrudging assistance with the primary motivation of getting him away from his home and partner". He added: "He doesn’t for a moment suggest he’s blameless in this case and it is right he should be punished for the assistance he gave Mr Cashman.

"The defendant was neither present nor involved in the murderous actions of Mr Cashman. He was unaware at all material times, at the time of his assistance, what Cashman had actually done.

“The defendant was totally unaware of what Cashman had actually done. The begrudging assistance he was providing may have been reflected upon had he known the true horror of it.

“He accepts that it was apparent to him that a very serious offence had been committed. He appears to have been aware that the firearm had been discharged.”

Mr Schofield stated that Russell had been "issued with a threat to life notice", also known as an Osman warning, by the police after being charged with assisting an offender. He said it was unclear whether this had "emanated from Cashman and his supporters or horrified members of the public", but added: "His involvement in the events of August 22, however substantial or peripheral, will be a source of shame until the day he dies - he will never live them down.

"The defendant was initially remanded to a prison in Leeds, but owing to a threat to his safety was transferred to a prison in an undisclosed location in an assumed name. Because of those arrangements, prison has been a particularly isolating experience."

John Pratt was heard to say "so what?" in the public gallery at this point, while Olivia's brother Ryan Korbel walked out of the courtroom at one stage. Mr Schofield remarked that Russell will "not be allowed to return to Merseyside” upon his release from prison and will be "given a new identity and no doubt be looking over his shoulder for some years to come".

Cashman's trial at Manchester Crown Square Crown Court was told that he had "garden hopped" to Russell's partner's home in the aftermath of the incident. She cannot be named for legal reasons, but reported that she had phoned her boyfriend after being woken by the killer at her bedside.

Russell too attended the address after this call, at which point Cashman - of Grenadier Drive in West Derby - was said to have told him at the doorstep "I've done Joey". This was an apparent reference to Joseph Nee, the intended target of the attack.

He meanwhile said to Cashman "lad, don’t wanna hear it, don’t tell me nothing". Russell then drove Cashman to Aspes Road, where he had parked his Citroen Berlingo van before heading to the scene of the shooting on foot.

The shooter left the dark clothing he had been wearing on the kitchen floor beside the woman's washing machine. Russell later took these clothes round to the home of Craig Byrne, an associate of the murderer, on Snowberry Road as he walked his dog late that night.

Dad-of-two Cashman was given a navy blue pair of his co-defendant's Under Armour tracksuit bottoms during his pitstop at the woman's home. These were later discovered in a cardboard box at his sister's home on Mab Lane, and when tested were found to contain his DNA and two particles of gunpower residue on the outer surface of the right leg.

He was also handed a black and grey Under Armour t-shirt belonging to Russell, which was subsequently located in the box. A speck of Cashman's blood was found on the garment.

Cashman had allegedly told the woman upon his arrival at the address that he "didn't know where else to go" and "trusted" her. They had previously had a secret sexual relationship, which had first developed two years prior after they exchanged a series of flirty Instagram messages.

But he accused her of trying to "ruin" him and described her as a "woman scorned" after he apparently refused to leave his long-term partner for her. Cashman also claimed that Russell owed him a £25,000 drug debt - which he said had led to him issuing threats to take hold of his graft phone and car - and suggested that she had been motivated to frame him for the £200,000 Crimestoppers reward money.

His account from the witness box was that he had received the incriminating clothing at an earlier date, following a sexual encounter with the woman. This came after she had been one of the first people on the scene of another shooting, in which a man was injured.

The jury heard during a three-and-a-half-week trial that Cashman "lay in wait" for Nee while armed with two loaded guns as his intended target watched a Liverpool FC v Manchester United football match on the television at his friend Timmy Naylor's house on Finch Lane. When he left the address with another man, Paul Abraham, the gunman approached them from behind and opened fire three times with a self-loading pistol.

Nee was shot in the midriff at this point and stumbled to the floor as a result of his injuries. David McLachlan KC, prosecuting, described how Cashman then stood over the helpless man and attempted to discharge the firearm again as he begged: "Please don't, don't lad"."

But the gun malfunctioned, and Nee was able to escape. Cashman however continued his "ruthless pursuit" as he fled towards the Korbel family home.

Olivia's mum Cheryl Korbel then tussled with Nee in an attempt to keep her front door shut and to keep him out of the property, but the assailant fired another shot with a second gun - a revolver - at this point. This bullet passed through the door and travelled through the mother's hand before striking the youngster in the chest.

She had been upstairs in bed at the time, but was heard to say "mum, I'm scared" as she ran to the bottom of the stairs to her mum having been startled by the gunfire outside. With Nee by now inside, Cashman then forced his arm around the door and fired one final shot which became lodged in the doorframe.

Olivia was rushed to Alder Hey Children's Hospital after being critically injured, but was pronounced dead shortly before 11.30pm. Nee meanwhile was bundled into a car by his associates and taken to Whiston Hospital, later being transferred to Aintree Hospital.

The attacker was identified to have worn distinctive Monterrain trackies which matched a pair owned by Cashman. He had been observed on CCTV making a number of trips past Finch Lane on the day in question, including an apparent attempt to carry out the shooting at around 4pm that afternoon having spotted Nee's van outside - but this was thwarted after the then 35-year-old left to visit Screwfix.

Cashman however claimed in his evidence that he had no involvement in the shooting and was counting £10,000 in cash and "smoking a spliff" at Mr Byrne's house. He had admitted being a "high level" drug dealer who made up to £5,000 per week selling cannabis, and his various trips around the area throughout the day were apparently concerned with his involvement in the supply of the class B substance.

The defendant also stated he had "no problems" with the Nee family and counted them as friends. He said on the witness box: "I'm not a killer, I'm a dad."

Cashman was also found guilty of attempting to murder Nee, wounding with intent against Cheryl Korbel and two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life. He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 42 years earlier this month.

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