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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Jonathan Humphries & Adam Everett

'Many will think this is very lenient' - Every word judge told Paul Russell as he is 'shown mercy'

Dad-of-two Paul Russell today became the second man sent to jailed in connection with one of the most horrific crimes in Merseyside's history.

But there are worlds of difference between the 41-year-old and Thomas Cashman, the man who actually shot nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel dead on August 22 last year.

That night 34-year-old gangland thug Cashman lay in wait for rival drug dealer Joseph Nee on Kingsheath Avenue, Dovecot, armed with two guns. He shot Nee three times but when his Glock 9mm pistol "malfunctioned", he chased the wounded Nee down the road and towards the home of Olivia's mum, Cheryl Korbel, who had stepped outside to see what was going on.

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

As the screaming Ms Korbel tried to keep Nee out, Cashman blindly fired a shot from his second weapon, a revolver, through the front door. The bullet struck Cheryl in the arm, and then hit little Olivia in the chest. Later that evening, Russell, 41, gave Cashman a short lift from the home of Russell's partner, where the cowardly killer arrived unannounced after "garden hopping" from the scene of the shooting.

Russell also returned and collected a bag of clothing Cashman, 34, had worn during the shooting, which he then passed to another accomplice who has not been identified. He later pleaded guilty to assisting an offender, and passed Cashman's name to police.

Today, High Court judge Mrs Justice Yip passed sentence. These are her full sentencing remarks.

"Paul Russell, having pleaded guilty, you are to be sentenced for assisting an offender on August 22, 2022. The offender was Thomas Cashman, who had murdered Olivia Pratt-Korbel that night. The assistance you provided was to drive Mr Cashman a relatively short distance and to take his clothing to someone else. At the time, you did not know he had killed a child although you did understand he had been involved in a shooting.

"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 actions after learning of Olivia’s death provide powerful mitigation which must be reflected in your sentence.

"I will say at the outset that I have decided that the offence is so serious that it can only be met with an immediate custodial sentence but it will be a short sentence to reflect the circumstances in which you became involved, and the exceptional mitigation to be found in your subsequent cooperation with the authorities. Given the time that you have already spent on remand, this means you will be released fairly soon.

"I do not doubt that many will think that is very lenient given the nature of the offending with which you became involved, although you may still feel you have been treated severely after coming forward. I need to fully explain to you, and to others, how I have arrived at the sentence that I am going to pass. That is going to take a little time

"The nature and extent of your association with Thomas Cashman is not entirely clear but it is apparent that you had known him for years. There cannot be any sensible doubt that you knew him as someone engaged in serious criminal activity and yet you continued to associate with him. Your partner told the jury that you hated him. She also described how you smoked cannabis together that night and said that she overheard your conversation, including hearing you say 'Lad, I don’t want to hear' and him saying 'I’ve done Joey'.

"You say that you were afraid of Mr Cashman and refer to him having a reputation. I am prepared to accept that you did not welcome seeing Mr Cashman that night and that you did fear what he was capable of, albeit your partner’s evidence supports my view that there was an ongoing association between the two of you.

"Your involvement came about because Mr Cashman went to your partner’s home after the shooting. You were a short distance away. Your partner called you, against Mr Cashman’s express wishes. Although you say your principal intention was to get Mr Cashman away from your partner and children, your immediate actions were nothing of the sort.

"You did not tell him to leave nor did he issue any threats before you took him to Aspes Road. You had been aware of the heavy police presence in the area. Coupled with what he said, you must have known that you were assisting someone guilty of murder or, at least, attempted murder. By telling Mr Cashman you did not want to hear you were merely blocking out the obvious. It is in this context that you were prepared to help.

A court sketch of Paul Russell appearing in the dock at Liverpool Magistrates' Court in October 2022 (Elizabeth Cook)

"Whatever your justification for taking Mr Cashman to Aspes Road, the only purpose of taking his clothes to another associate was to help him evade justice. You were well aware of the significance of being involved in the rapid disposal of evidence. That is why you were slow to admit that you had done it."

"You learnt of Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s death the following morning and appreciated the gravity of what Mr Cashman had done. You were plainly shocked. Your partner said that you projectile vomited and that you and she had a very emotional conversation. You decided to contact a trusted member of the community with a view to making arrangements to speak to police officers. You then left Liverpool on a pre-arranged family trip but returned to sort things out and were arrested and interviewed.

"I have read the transcripts of your interviews. It cannot be said that you immediately made full and frank disclosure of your role. You knew that your assistance in disposing of clothing would be viewed seriously. You concealed that, no doubt hoping to avoid your own prosecution. However, you were not prepared to protect Mr Cashman from facing the consequences of killing a child. You named him and corroborated the account your partner gave police and was to go on to give as a witness at court. It is apparent from the transcripts that you were expressing genuine fear about potential consequences for you and your immediate and wider family.

"Having explored this with the police, the Prosecution accept that your fears were genuine and well-founded. The joint decision you and your partner made to come forward was significant in the investigation of the murder and was a brave one. In your final interview on October 1, 2022, your solicitor told the police that you were aggrieved by the prospect of being prosecuted despite the assistance you had provided to them and the fact that you had been in witness protection for a month. It was stressed that you remained willing to assist.

"You made your first appearance before the Magistrates’ Court on October 3, 2022. No indication of plea was given. You were hoping that the CPS might be willing to grant you immunity from Prosecution on the basis that you would give evidence against Mr Cashman. A formal offer to give evidence for the Crown was made on your behalf on 19 October. It is right to recognise that your solicitor indicated that, if not offered immunity from prosecution, you would plead guilty and that your offer to give evidence for the Crown was not conditional on being granted immunity.

"There is no specific sentencing guideline available for this offence. General sentencing principles require me to take a staged approach, first arriving at a provisional sentence for the offence, then considering aggravating and mitigating factors, next considering any factors which indicate a reduction for assistance to the prosecution and finally making the appropriate reduction for your guilty plea.

"I have considered the guidance provided by the Court of Appeal in Attorney General’s Reference number 16 of 2009. That case concerned James Yates, who assisted Sean Mercer when he murdered Rhys Jones on 22 August 2007. The echoes of that case were obvious when Olivia Pratt-Korbel was killed exactly 15 years later. Sadly, the observations of the Court of Appeal about gun crime in Liverpool chime just as loudly today.

Thomas Cashman (Merseyside Police)

"I make it clear though that there are clear distinctions to be drawn between your involvement in this case and what Mr Yates did. He supplied the gun that killed Rhys Jones and afterwards, knowing a child had been killed, did everything he could to assist the killer to escape justice. He denied everything until the bitter end and was convicted at trial.

"As you now appreciate, you assisted an offender who had committed a crime of the utmost gravity. Even accepting you did not know a child had died, I am sure you at least entertained the possibility you were assisting a murderer. Those who involve themselves in the criminality of others run the risk of becoming caught up in something even worse than they have understood. Had you continued to cover up for Mr Cashman after you learned of Olivia’s death, you could have expected a much longer sentence than that which I will pass.

"Although you do not fall into the category of doing all that you could to help the offender avoid justice, your assistance was significant. Disposing of evidence in the immediate aftermath is always serious. Those early hours are often critical to an investigation. As I have already said, you well understood the significance of getting rid of the clothing. That cannot be explained away as being done reluctantly merely to get Mr Cashman away. I do though accept that your fear of him influenced your actions. At the time, you probably thought helping him was the easier option for you. With hindsight, you must recognise what a disastrous decision that was. Your case ought to serve as a warning to others tempted to help offenders, whatever the motivation for doing so.

"The other side of the balance is your subsequent cooperation with the police. The first consequence of that is that naming Mr Cashman limited the impact your earlier actions had on the course of justice. It did not though wholly wipe out what you did. It is highly likely that the clothing Mr Cashman was wearing at the time of the shooting would have been of evidential value, strengthening the case against him. Such evidence may even have resulted in him being charged earlier. However, the fact that you went to the police after you learned of Olivia’s death limited the impact of the assistance you provided to Mr Cashman and so reduces the starting point for your sentence.

"I turn to the aggravating and mitigating factors. You are now 41 years’ old. This is not your first taste of prison as you received a custodial sentence in 2002 for a drugs offence. Other than that, your previous convictions have been relatively minor and are of some age. I do not treat your past offending as aggravating this offence but equally you do not have the benefit of previous good character as mitigation.

Cheryl Korbel (2nd from right), the mother of murdered nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, arrives at Manchester Crown court, before the sentencing of Thomas Cashman, who was found guilty of killing her daughter at home in Dovecot Liverpool (Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

"You have been remanded in custody for over six months. We have heard that you were initially held in Leeds but following a threat to your safety, you were moved to an undisclosed location. I acknowledge this must have been a fairly bleak period for you, although to put that into context it has been nothing like as bleak for you as for the family of Olivia Pratt-Korbel. You have been separated from your partner and children. While in custody, you learned of the sexual relationship between Thomas Cashman and your partner. That news had to be broken through police officers. It was news that attracted huge national publicity during Mr Cashman’s trial. I am told that you intend to make a go of your relationship on your release. I am aware you have not seen your children or parents while in custody. I acknowledge that prison conditions generally continue to be difficult and that, deprived of family contact, you may have experienced this all the more.

"In following the staged approach, there is risk of repeatedly discounting for your cooperation at each step. I shall avoid double-counting the same factors. I have already dealt with the impact your cooperation with the police had on your criminality but there are other consequences. 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. The court has heard today that you were served with a threat to life notice after being charged. 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. Your parents have had to be relocated. You have suffered and will continue to suffer real interference with your family life.

"As is acknowledged on your behalf, section 74 of the Sentencing Act 2020 does not apply to your case because there was no formal agreement to assist. However, your cooperation with the police and willingness to assist the prosecution and the impact this has had on you and your family is powerful mitigation which must be reflected in the appropriate sentence before allowing credit for your guilty plea.

"You pleaded guilty at the plea and trial preparation hearing on 31 October 2022. Following the Sentencing Council’s guideline “Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea”, the usual discount for a plea entered at that stage is 25%. Full credit of one-third will usually only be applied where that plea was indicated at the first opportunity, which would have been your appearance in the Magistrates’ Court. I am urged to apply the exception at paragraph F1 of the guideline. That exception provides that a reduction of one-third should still be made if there were particular circumstances which significantly reduced the defendant’s ability to understand what was alleged or otherwise made it unreasonable to expect the defendant to enter a guilty plea sooner than was done. A distinction is drawn between cases in which it is necessary to receive advice or have sight of evidence to understand whether the defendant is in fact guilty and those where the defendant merely delays his guilty plea to assess the prospects of conviction.

Cheryl Korbel, mother of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, holding a teddy bear outside Manchester Crown Court after Thomas Cashman was found guilty of murdering her daughter at her family home in Dovecot, Liverpool, on August 22 last year. (Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

"I have carefully considered whether that exception applies in your case. I accept that the circumstances were unusual and understand you hoped the Prosecution might be persuaded to grant you immunity. However, you had all the information you needed to know that you were guilty of the offence. You delayed indicating your guilty plea while your lawyers sought to negotiate immunity or to explore a defence of duress. You were entitled to do that but I am not satisfied that this situation falls within the exception such as to require credit of one-third. The discount I will make at the end specifically for your guilty plea is therefore 25%.

"Having said that, I will take full account of all the circumstances, including the chronology, when considering the mitigation available to you. In doing that, I take account of your cooperation generally, the admissions you made in interview, the transparency in the approach made to the CPS on your behalf and your ongoing willingness to assist the Prosecution by giving evidence at Mr Cashman’s trial even after you knew you would not be granted immunity. Had I been persuaded to give you full credit for your plea, I would have taken care not to double count the same circumstances both as mitigation and as exceptional reasons for giving full credit.

"I have considered whether justice could be met by the imposition of a suspended sentence in your case. I have considered the Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences” guideline. I have also considered the authorities to which your counsel has referred. I accept that there are factors which favour suspension. However, I have concluded that appropriate punishment can only be achieved with a sentence of immediate imprisonment. While there is room for some sympathy for the situation you now find yourself in, I return to the proposition that those who assist offenders who use guns must expect to be imprisoned. Assisting a murderer to evade justice will always be treated very seriously. In my view, imposing a suspended sentence in this case would send out the wrong message. It is only because of your cooperation after learning of Olivia’s death that your sentence can be very much shorter than would normally be required. The sentence must reflect the fact that, unlike others, you have not remained silent even after learning the full horror of what Mr Cashman had done. In cases such as this, those who maintain the cover up to the bitter end can expect no mercy but leniency may be extended to those willing to put themselves at risk by breaking the silence.

The maximum sentence for this offence is 10 years. Although the offender you assisted had committed a very grave crime, the provisional sentence in your case does not fall towards the maximum. That is because you are not in the category of knowingly and willingly doing all you could to assist. Taking account of the nature of the assistance you provided and the circumstances in which you became involved, the sentence had you not cooperated with the police and had you not pleaded guilty would have been one of five years’ imprisonment. The very substantial mitigation available to you because of your cooperation with the police and the impact on you and your family causes me to reduce that starting point by half to give a sentence before credit for your guilty plea of two-and-a-half years, which I must then discount further by 25% reflecting your plea. I shall round the resulting number of months down rather than up.

The sentence that I impose on you, Paul Russell, is accordingly 22 months’ imprisonment. You will be released from custody when you reach the halfway point of your sentence and will then serve the remainder on licence in the community. The time you have spent on remand will count towards your sentence. When released, you must keep to the conditions of your licence, failing which you will be liable to be recalled to prison.

"The appropriate statutory surcharge will be applied."


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Paul Russell to be given new identity after helping child killer Thomas Cashman

Olivia Pratt-Korbel's family in court for Paul Russell sentencing

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

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