How accurate is Little Boy Blue? New ITV drama tells the true story of the investigation into Rhys Jones's murder
The new drama recounts the harrowing tale of the 11-year-old football player's 2007 murder, but how true to life is it?
ITV's new Monday night drama Little Boy Blue follows a family left devastated by the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones on a Liverpool estate in 2007, and the subsequent investigation that was launched to find his killer.
Jeff Pope's four part series is based in a true story – but how true to life is the tale it tells? Find out more about the research and making of the drama below.
Who was Rhys Jones and what happened to him?
Eleven-year-old Rhys Jones was a young Everton fan who loved football. He was walking home from football training on 22nd August 2007 when he was shot and fatally wounded in the car park of a pub on Liverpool’s Croxteth Park estate.
The Fir Tree pub car park featured in the ITV drama is not the actual crime scene. Producer Kwadjo Dajan told the Liverpool Echo that they felt it would be insensitive to film in the actual location.
"There would have been absolutely no value in recreating this sequence on the doorstep of where it happened. There was no way of knowing what kind of impact this would have had on Rhys's family, neighbours and friends so we made a conscious decision to film those scenes outside of the city."
How did Mel Jones find out what had happened to her son?
Mel was at home when one of the coaching team knocked on her door to tell her that Rhys had been shot. The man who called to the house offered to take her to the Fir Tree and they drove there immediately.
“Mel ran across the car park. She was just cradling Rhys in her arms pleading: ‘Stay with me, stay with me,’” Steve Geoghagen, a football coach and witness to Rhys's shooting, told the Mirror. “I often think the bullet could have hit anyone who was there. If Rhys had took just one more step, or been a step slower, or got in my car, that bullet would’ve missed him.”
Paramedics and staff at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital battled for 90 minutes to save Rhys, but he was pronounced dead at 8.46pm.
Did the porter really give Rhys an Everton duvet?
A scene in the ITV drama shows Rhys draped in an Everton duvet in the hospital mortuary, and the particularly moving scene is true to life. When Mel and Steve arrived to see their son’s body, staff at the hospital had sourced an Everton pillow and duvet for him.
"It didn't seem real," Mel is quoted as saying in a Telegraph report from December 2008. "He looked like he was just tucked up in his bed at home."
Did a police officer really stop Mel Jones from giving Rhys a hug?
One of the toughest scenes to stomach in the first episode of the new series features a police officer telling Mel Jones that she can't touch her son's body. The sequence of events depicted are partly what made Jeff Pope so determined to make Little Boy Blue a drama, instead of a documentary.
“There’s a scene where Melanie wants to cuddle Rhys in the morgue and she’s told [by a police officer concerned about contamination of evidence], ‘If you keep doing that, I’ll arrest you,’” he tells Radio Times. “If Melanie tells you about that in a documentary it’s very powerful. But to actually see her reaction? You can only do that with drama.”
Did the Everton crowd really have a round of applause for Rhys?
Everton played a home game against Blackburn Rovers on 25th August 2007. Before kick off, fans and players paid tribute to him in a minute-long applause, while his parents and brother Owen stood on the sideline. Players from the team also laid a floral tribute to Rhys at the scene of the shooting, leaving football boots and shirts in his memory.
The minute’s applause you see in the ITV drama was actually filmed during the half-time break of a match at Goodison Park. “We advertised it in the week leading up to the shoot, and were stunned when all 39,000 in the crowd gave up their half-time break to participate in our film,” producer Kwadjo Dajan told the Liverpool Echo.
“They clapped us onto the pitch and perfectly observed the minute’s applause, then they applauded us off the pitch. It was a truly special experience. I still get goosebumps thinking about it now.”
Who is Detective Superintendent Dave Kelly?
Dave Kelly is a retired police officer who led the investigation into Rhys Jones’s murder. He worked with Little Boy Boy creator Jeff Pope on the drama.
Did he really carry a pickaxe around the office?
Stephen Graham's Dave Kelly is depicted carrying what looks like a large bat around the office when talking to the team investigating the murder. It's actually a pickaxe, and it's the very same one the real Dave Kelly used at the time.
“The Persuader. I used to take it into morning briefings and put some people on the spot. I didn’t brandish it or anything but I would have it by my side,” the real-life Kelly told the Liverpool Echo.
“Then when Stephen came to the house I showed him it and he loved it. So he borrowed it for the filming, but I’ve got it back now."
Who is Sean Mercer?
In 2007 Sean Mercer was just 16 years old, but he’d already been stopped and searched by police “about 80 times” according to Little Boy Blue creator Jeff Pope.
Mercer identified as a member of the Croxteth Crew, a local gang who were known to police.
Why did Sean Mercer shoot Rhys?
Rhys was never the intended target of the 2007 shooting. Mercer had intended to shoot a member of a rival gang, the Strand Gang, whom he believed had strayed onto their territory. It’s thought that he intended to shoot a 20-year-old by the name of Wayne Brady, and when he could not target him had opened fire on two other Strand Gang members who were riding around on bikes in the car park.
Chief Superintendent Steve Watson, responsible for the policing of Liverpool North, disputed the legitimacy of the gangs at the time.
"We are not talking about the mafia here, we are talking about kids, teenagers, who lived on a housing estate," he said in 2008. "I do not want to overstate the sophistication of these groups. In essence they are very often a collection of dysfunctional and feckless youngsters who associate purely on the geographical basis of where they live."
Who hid the gun that was used to shoot Rhys?
Disposing of the gun, provided by gang member James Yates, was Mercer’s top priority.
Court reports from 2008 reveal that just 20 minutes after he’d shot and killed the 11-year-old, Mercer called Boy X (they’ve called him Kevin Moody in the ITV drama), a 17-year-old with no criminal record who he knew was scared of him.
Boy X called to the house where Mercer was hiding and was given a red and white plastic bag with the gun in it. He took it home and hid it in a dog kennel. In the meantime, the gang took Mercer to burn his clothes and stripped the bike before abandoning it.
Boy X was later visited by Dean Kelly, who moved the gun to the loft of Boy X’s home. Boy X then went on holiday with his family to Florida.
Did the police really bug James Yates’s house?
In the early stages of the investigation Mercer had been named by numerous anonymous callers as the person who shot Rhys, but when he was pulled in for questioning – along with other potential suspects and associates – on 25th August 2007, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge them.
That left the police with no option but to apply for permission to install bugs in the homes of those they suspected were linked to the murder. The bugs placed in the homes of Yates - also known as Yatzy - and another suspect, ‘Boy M’, provided crucial evidence that lead to the discovery of the gun, several arrests, and Mercer’s eventual conviction.
How did police find the gun used to shoot Rhys Jones?
The evidence obtained via the bugs in James Yates and Boy M’s homes led police to search Boy X’s house. He and his family were still on holiday when police found the Smith & Wesson rifle used to shoot Rhys hidden in his loft.
According to a 2008 report from The Independent, “Mercer called or texted him 13 times in 15 minutes to warn him of the raid. A terrified Boy X – urged by his stunned family to cooperate – was arrested on the apron at Manchester airport when he returned a week later.”
What happened to Boy X?
Boy X went on to become the prosecution’s star witness in the case, and was offered immunity for his testimony in April 2008. He was also put under witness protection and given a new life and identity far away from Croxteth.
How was Sean Mercer found guilty?
It took almost 18 months for detectives to gather sufficient evidence to prove Mercer and his co-conspirators' guilt. They were arrested in a series of dawn raids in April 2008 and Mercer was charged with murder.
His alibi fell through when he was caught on tape attempting to convince Boy M's grandmother to change her story about the night of the murder. She placed him at her house, while he insisted he'd been elsewhere.
Police also found crucial DNA evidence on the bike Mercer had tried to dispose of. A passer-by had come across the bike in the days after the murder and taken it home with the intent to fix it up. Months later, they recognised the bike on a TV appeal for information and called the police. Traces of Mercer's DNA were found on it, linking him to the shooting.
As well as that, officers also compiled a 3,000-word dossier of bad character references. This proved the boys were members of a gang, with the motive to fire a gun in a car park and kill an innocent child who'd been caught in the crossfire.
What happened to Sean Mercer?
Mercer, who was 18 years old at the end of the nine week trial in 2008, was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 22 years. His associates - and his mother, who had lied for him - were also given custodial sentences.
Little Boy Blue airs on ITV on Monday nights at 9pm