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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Adam Everett

Rio Jones jailed for life after shooting schoolgirl at bus stop

A teenager has been jailed for life after shooting a 15-year-old girl in the neck as she waited for a bus home from school.

The innocent schoolgirl was caught in the crossfire after Rio Jones discharged six gunshots at a rival as he pursued him through the streets of Toxteth on an electric bike. The 19-year-old was found guilty of attempting to murder the target, Shakur Watson, and inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent by a jury in October following a trial.

He returned to Liverpool Crown Court this morning, Tuesday, to be sentenced having also admitted possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life. Jones - appearing via video link to HMP Manchester wearing a grey Nike jumper - showed no emotion as he was imprisoned for life with a minimum term of 16-and-a-half years.

READ MORE: One dead and another injured as e-bike battery catches fire

Family members could be heard gasping in the public gallery as he was told he would receive a life imprisonment. One woman began sobbing uncontrollably and had to be led out of the courtroom propped up by two men.

Sentencing Jones for what he described as a "planned attack", the Honorary Recorder of Liverpool Judge Andrew Menary KC said: "You claimed to have used the gun only to frighten and not to harm. That claim was plainly nonsense and was rejected by the jury.

"It is clear that you became aware of Shakur Watson, who was also riding an electric bike on Upper Warwick Street. There then followed a chase, with you quickly gaining on Shakur Watson.

"As you drew almost level with Mr Watson, and still travelling at some speed, you pulled a gun from your pocket and fired six shots in quick succession directly at Mr Watson. One of the bullets hit Mr Watson in the wrist.

"Another bullet missed Mr Watson but struck a girl who was standing waiting for a bus at the bus stop that happened to be adjacent to the place where you started shooting. There could very easily have been two people killed that day.

"It may be that the shooting of the girl was unintended, but it was entirely predictable given that you discharged this weapon six times from a fast moving bike on a main residential and commercial street in broad daylight. Your actions were outrageous."

A jury previously heard that Jones, of Jermyn Street in Toxteth, was chasing Watson through the streets - with both riding electric bikes - shortly after 5pm on March 1 last year when he fired six shots at "at extremely close proximity" on Upper Warwick Street. One bullet struck the other rider, with another hitting the 15-year-old - who "happened to be waiting at a bus stop just behind the target" with a friend, aged 14.

She was rushed to Alder Hey Children's Hospital after one of the bullets entered at the right-hand side of the back of her neck and exited via the chest area. The youngster suffered lung damage and shattered vertebrae in her spine, undergoing 10 days of treatment before being discharged.

Meanwhile, Watson continued riding for a short distance before knocking on the door of a nearby house. The occupant drove the 20-year-old to the Royal Liverpool Hospital after he was shot in the right arm, requiring surgery after a bullet fractured a bone in his wrist.

In the aftermath Jones disposed of the gun, his bike and the clothes he had been wearing during the shooting. None of these items have since been recovered.

The teen was arrested at his home on March 3, with a search of the property revealing body armour in his bedroom. He claimed to have lost his phone during a visit to Sheffield the day after the shooting, replacing it with a new handset and number thereafter.

Jones said in his evidence that he had been stabbed, shot at and run over in a dispute between two groups of feuding former friends in the years leading up to the incident. This schism allegedly developed after an unnamed pal was murdered in 2017.

After this, he and his family had been on the end of a series of attacks for which he believed "someone in the other group of friends" was responsible. These included an arson attack at his home in January 2019, six days before his dad's work van was set on fire.

On November 21 2019, a firearm was discharged outside Jones' address when he was not home. Ten 9mm casings were found in the road, with nine bullet holes left in the front window.

Jones was then stabbed on High Park Street on October 24 2021, being knifed in the chest and leg as he and a female friend sat in a car. He suffered a "small puncture wound" to his upper thigh and a "slash wound" to the hand, but sustained no injuries to his torso as he was wearing body armour.

The gunman said on the witness box that he had been stabbed twice prior to this. He also claimed to have been "chased with knives and guns", while his mum's car had "got smashed up".

On another occasion, Jones was chased and hit by a car while walking his dog and suffered a broken foot. Shots were also fired when he and a group of his friends were being pursued through the streets.

The teenager stated that he had been similarly been tailed on the morning of the shooting in March 2022 and decided to retaliate by finding and pursuing a person from the other gang in order to warn his assailants off. Jones maintained that he had not intended to fire the gun and instead "panicked" when he brandished the weapon.

Stanley Reiz KC, defending, earlier told the court that his client had had an "unsettled upbringing" and struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. Jones also penned a letter of apology to his young victim in advance of his sentence.

Mr Reiz added: "At the time these offences were committed, he was immature. He has had time to reflect on his behaviour.

"He shows not justice victim empathy but recognition of how his conduct has affected her life. He never intended to cause her harm, but recognises the harm she sustained was entirely down to his criminal conduct.

"He has plenty of time to mature and further develop and rehabilitate. He has expressed a wish to use his time constructively.

"He is a young man who really didn't think about the consequences of his actions until perhaps it was too late. He felt he was effectively pushed into responding in some way.

"Of course he was wrong about it, but there is no doubt Mr Jones and his family were the victims of serious criminal conduct. The fact that a young male like Mr Jones who suffered from ADHD and autism happened to associate with a gang like that is sad, but perhaps unsurprising.

"When one associates with that type of group, this is the sort of offence that follows. This 19-year-old male behaved in a reprehensible way, but now recognises that he did.

"He wishes to use his time constructively and is intent on bettering himself. He can released a better man."

Merseyside Police's Detective Superintendent Rachel Wilson said following the sentencing: "This was a truly shocking and reckless incident in which an innocent child was caught up in a gang dispute, and it is only by sheer good fortune that this did not turn into a murder investigation. We sadly know the devastating consequences of gun crime, not only on victims and their families but also the wider communities.

"My officers worked tirelessly on this investigation to bring the person responsible to justice. Thanks to their hard work and diligence we were able to move quickly to arrest and charge Jones within a matter of days of the incident happening.

"Today he is behind bars, where he will spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on the consequences of his brazen actions. Sadly Jones’ victim continues to suffer both physically and mentally as a result of the injury she suffered that day.

"I hope that the sentence will bring some comfort to her and her family and help her in some way with her long process of recovery. I also want this to serve as a warning to other people that carrying and using guns on the streets of Merseyside will never be acceptable.

"If you choose to carry a weapon, we will do everything within our powers to find you and put you behind bars."

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