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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Adam Everett & Stephen Topping

Strangeways prisoner shot schoolgirl in the neck at bus stop

A 19-year-old man who shot an innocent schoolgirl as she waited for a bus with her friend has been jailed for life. Strangeways prisoner Rio Jones fired six gunshots at a rival when the girl was caught up in the crossfire.

The girl was rushed to hospital, where she remained for 10 days before being able to go home. Having been convicted in court following a trial last October, there were gasps in Liverpool Crown Court as Jones was handed a life sentence today (January 10).

One woman in the public gallery began sobbing uncontrollably and had to be led out of the courtroom propped up by two men, the Liverpool Echo reports. Jones had pursued his target, Shakur Watson, through the streets of Toxteth, Liverpool, on an electric bike.

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A jury found him found guilty of attempting to murder Watson and inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent. Jones also admitted possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.

The teenager - appearing via video link to HMP Manchester - showed no emotion as he was imprisoned for life with a minimum term of 16-and-a-half years. 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.

Upper Warwick Street, Toxteth (Google Maps)

"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.

"It is not possible for me to determine why you decided that day to try and murder Shakur Watson. You told the jury that you and he had at one time been friends, but you each found yourselves on different sides when two factions formed following the violent death of another young man.

"That much of your account might be true. I doubt much more of it was. I have no doubt that you and he were each members of rival gangs and that this was a gang-related incident. This incident has the hallmarks of gang activity.

"Although you yourself have been the victim of stabbings in the past, you have received threats and your mothers house has been damaged - including by being shot at - this is not because you are being unfairly picked on or targeted for no reason. I have no doubt it is the direct consequence of the gang-affiliated lifestyle you have chosen.

Liverpool Crown Court (Liverpool Echo)

"You told the jury in evidence that you reacted as you did to the threats you had received because you were afraid, but your movements on the day of the shooting - and indeed the day before - suggests quite the opposite. With your friends, you rode around the streets of Liverpool for extended periods

"Sadly, it is becoming an all too familiar sight in this city with groups of youths on high-powered electric bikes - with hoods up and faces covered - riding in a way that is arrogantly intimidating and intended to intimidate local communities. It does suggest you were not hiding in fear."

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 the other 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.

The girl was treated at Alder Hey Children's Hospital (Liverpool Echo)

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.

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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