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He helped kill my boy ... now gun thug will be back on our doorstep; DAD'S FURY AS GANG MEMBER IS FREED FROM JAIL AND ALLOWED BACK TO CROXTETH.

Byline: LUKE TRAYNOR Chief Reporter luke.traynor@trinitymirror.com @LUKETRAYNORECHO

THE dad of Rhys Jones slammed a decision to release from jail a former gang member involved in his 11-year-old son's murder - and allow him to return to the neighbourhood where they still live.

James Yates supplied the gun with which killer Sean Mercer murdered schoolboy Rhys in 2007.

The Probation Service has explained how Yates, now in his early 30s, would be released from prison later this week.

And, in a further blow to Rhys' family, it was explained how once-strict licence conditions, that prevented Yates from entering Croxteth, were no longer in force.

It brings to an end stringent restrictions that barred the career criminal from visiting the district where the shocking murder took place.

Steve Jones, Rhys' dad, described the news as "very disappointing and surprising."

The 57-year-old, a key worker during the lockdown for Tesco, told the ECHO: "We were told that Yates has served his time and he can now go wherever he wants.

"He's free to go anywhere. It's very disappointing.

"The likelihood is he'll return to Croxteth, as he has family here, and we could bump into him at any time.

"We'd certainly like those previous restrictions to be permanent, but it's the way the system works.

"Yates is not a changed person, he's not learned any lessons.

"He's not been rehabilitated in any way at all.

"To get the phone call telling us he's soon to be free, and allowed to come into Croxteth again, is surprising, yes.

"Getting news like this brings it all back to the forefront of your mind. It's always there, but this makes it take over your thoughts once more."

The ECHO understands Yates has now served his full term for his involvement in Rhys' murder.

He was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2008, which was increased to 12 years in October, 2009, after a review.

He has been released twice since then on licence, most recently in February, 2018. He was again taken back into custody in November last year for breaching his licence conditions.

However, with the 12-year term now expired, the Ministry of Justice say Yates must be freed, and that also means any licence conditions, like keeping him away from Croxteth, also come to an end.

It is believed Yates has not acquired any new criminal convictions since supplying the gun which killed Rhys and helping Mercer, who was 16 at the time, in his bid to escape justice.

Yates also helped to dispose of Mercer's bike, clothes and the gun afterwards.

Yates was convicted of possession of a firearm and assisting an offender.

He sought the help of his parents to try and cover up his actions, which led to dad Francis and mum Marie being secretly recorded by police surveillance bugs as they burned a potentially-incriminating mobile phone SIM card in their home.

Francis Yates pleaded guilty to pervert-ing the course of justice and was jailed for 41/2 years.

Mercer is now the only member of that section of the Croxteth Crew gang still serving a sentence in relation to Rhys' murder.

The earliest he could be released is 2030, after being handed a minimum term of 22 years, in 2008, at the end of his trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

Everton fan Rhys was shot dead outside a busy pub as he walked home from football practice, the innocent victim of a titfor-tat gangland feud.

In prison, following Rhys' murder, Yates was subjected to shouts of "Baby Killer" from fellow inmates at HMP Altcourse, themselves disgusted by his actions.

He requested "vulnerable prisoner" status and told prison officers that he feared violent reprisals against his family.

Yates also gained further notoriety when, during the murder trial, he was heard to say: "All this fuss over a kid."

Yates is not a changed person, he's not learned any lessons. He's not been rehabilitated in any way at all. Steve Jones

CAPTION(S):

Steve Jones; above left, Rhys Jones; and, left, James Yates, who supplied the gun to killer Sean Mercer
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Author:LUKE TRAYNOR Chief Reporter luke.traynor@trinitymirror.com @LUKETRAYNORECHO
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 21, 2020
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