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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A GANG of “guns for hire” who spread lawless violence in a spate of gun and grenade attacks across Merseyside were today starting life behind bars.


Grenade gang

 

The five were the “go to” men for gangsters across the area as they carried out attacks on underworld rivals.

But their spree saw innocent people caught in the middle as indiscriminate shootings and grenade attacks escalated.

At the top of the tree sat Tony Downes and Kirk Bradley, a “thick as thieves” pair of career criminals from Huyton, and Gary Wilson, who used his ill-gotten gains to buy himself a plush seafront Southport home.

Bradley and Downes, both 26, never got their hands dirty – Downes was directing operations from his cell in HMP Liverpool and was said to be the group’s “chief executive” by a judge yesterday.

Instead their underlings, “trusted and active lieutenants” Craig Riley and Joseph Farrell, were given “jobs” to carry out and would farm some tasks out to younger crooks wanting to make a name for themselves.

On their instructions, the young thugs would be given guns or explosives and an address or a specific individual to target.

They threw grenades into a room where a woman babysitting her seven-year-old grandson was sleeping and shot people in the legs and stomach, leaving them with life-changing injuries.

Their “modus operandi” saw them use the same guns over and over again – two guns linked to the group were used in 16 different shootings – and carry out their attacks on scrambler bikes, ideal for a quick getaway.

Police slammed the gang as “parasites, the worst kind of mercenary” after bringing them to justice.

A covert police operation was launched to snare those linked to more than 20 incidents over two years.

As the net closed on them, officers took an arsenal of weapons off the streets.

At Woolwich Crown Court yesterday the “chapter” in the ongoing fight against gun crime was brought to a close by high court judge Mr Justice Henriques when he sentenced each of the gang to life imprisonment.

Only Farrell, Wilson and Riley were actually in the dock at Woolwich yesterday.

Downes and Bradley escaped from a prison van in Manchester last summer as they were being brought to court in Liverpool.

Their escape caused their trial, which was in its 11th week at the time, to collapse and a retrial at maximum-security Woolwich was ordered.

But the day after they were convicted in their absence, Downes was picked up after eight months of freedom.




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