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Taking 'very dangerous' child gang boss off streets helps 'build trust'

By Jonathan Humphries

Senior detectives say the removal of a "very dangerous" child gang boss from the streets of south Liverpool will help build trust with communities.

Harry O'Brien was just 16 when he was arrested for a series of violent and terrifying incidents linked to a drug-dealing 'graft line' in Dingle. O'Brien controlled a crew of dealers selling cannabis, but his "lucrative" trade was exposed after a "feud" led to three shootings in three weeks in South Liverpool.

One attack saw bullets fired from an Audi at a BMW, as the two cars raced side-by-side through the city at night. A stray bullet flew through the front door of an "entirely innocent" family's home and landed on their hallway stairs.

READ MORE: The boy who thought he could rule South Liverpool by terror

A gunman on an electric bike peppered a family's living room with bullets and fired into another victim's bedroom. Finally, O'Brien had petrol poured through the letterbox of a mum's home and set ablaze, as she and her children ran for their lives.

This week Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Kameen, head of investigations at Merseyside Police, told the ECHO the sentencing of the baby-faced thug represented a major boost in the campaign to reduce gun crime. DCS Kameen was speaking ahead of the launch of a two-week firearms surrender, which enables anyone with an illegal or unlicensed gun or ammunition to hand it in safely without fear of prosecution.

During the last national surrender in August 2019, a total of 131 weapons were handed in on Merseyside, including 22 workable firearms, as well as ammunition. A further 14 live guns, nine BB guns, 12 air weapons and a quantity of ammunition were collected last year when Merseyside Police launched a county-wide firearms surrender following changes to antique gun legislation.

Firearms discharges in Merseyside overall are at a 20 year low. However there have been a cluster of serious incidents in recent weeks, including in Toxteth where a 15-year-old girl waiting at a bus-stop was hit by stray bullets and critically injured, and a woman in her 50s was shot in the leg in Wavertree.

The ECHO asked DCS Kameen about O'Brien's recent sentencing. He replied: "Let's just celebrate this absolute brilliant success. That was a very dangerous individual, it was a 16-year-old boy who had access to a firearm, who was committing arsons, who was drug-dealing. He's rightly been prosecuted and will be in prison for a very long time.

"That sends a clear message out around our ability to deal with serious and organised crime and hopefully some confidence and trust from our community around that when they work with us.

"In terms of then what have we done as a follow up, local policing provide a visible neighbourhood presence alongside our PCSOs to make sure that people are reassured.

"And again this surrender goes a stage further than that coming into those communities, hopefully building up that trust from that arrest and that conviction, and going then what else can we do to remove that threat that firearms pose to where you live, where you work and where you visit."

Last week Liverpool Crown Court heard O'Brien planned and took part in all three shootings, "orchestrated the arson", and the cannabis plot was "his enterprise". David Temkin, QC, prosecuting, said: "Harry O'Brien was at the heart of the criminality in this case."

Michael McClean, then 16, and Aaron Donohoe, then 19, were his "lieutenants", given "managerial responsibility" over his drug trade. "Trusted" Daniel Lawler, 19, joined O'Brien in carrying out two of the shootings, which all involved the same Glock semi-automatic gun - never recovered by police.

Richard Pratt, QC, defending, said O'Brien had "diagnoses in the past of ADHD" and was described as "a risk taker". He added: "It may well be those illnesses, through no fault of his own, have contributed to this conduct."

Judge Neil Flewitt, QC, locked O’Brien up for nine years and eight months, with an extended three years on licence. He must serve at least two thirds of that sentence behind bars, before he can apply for parole.

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Dive Deeper:
Child gang boss off streets, Huyton mum murder and son killed dad
These are the latest ECHO headlines on Thursday, May 12
Gangsters 'could have hidden a gun in your garden' detectives warn
Merseyside Police say there have been recent cases of guns being stashed in the gardens of completely oblivious residents
Inside the crime empire ruled by teenage boy who terrorised community
Baby-faced gang boss Harry O'Brien, 16, brought terror to innocent families as he went to war with rivals in a…
Thug set fire to young family's home on orders of teen gang boss
Children ran for their lives after Mohammed Mohammed doused their front door in petrol
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Terrified EncroChat crooks 'fleeing abroad' as force 'only half way through' prosecutions
A senior detective described EncroChat evidence as "almost go straight to jail"
Inside crime empire ruled over by baby-faced boy, 16, who terrorised community
Baby-faced gang boss Harry O'Brien brought fear to innocent families as he went to war with rivals in a campaign…
Get all your news in one place