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Haunting text messages sent by 'gangland boss' before innocent man was shot

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 13/03/2021 Luke Traynor

Text messages sent by an alleged gangland boss have been laid bare and appear to show how he ordered his "boots on the ground" to shoot rivals who'd angered him.

This week, a court heard Jamie Rothwell commanded his recruits to gun down people he had "grievances" with, thousands of miles away, from his base in Spain.

His instructions led to an innocent man being shot on his own doorstep and left with a life-changing bullet wound to his leg.

A gang drove from Liverpool to Warrington to carry out the orders, but instead of injuring their supposed target, a previously-convicted heroin dealer, they instead wrongly shot his step-dad.

David Barnes, 55, was immediately suspicious as he opened his front door, on Poplars Avenue, Orford, to see an unrecognisable young man carrying pizza boxes.

Having not ordered fast food, and given that his step-son, Liam Byrne Jr, had recently been given a notice from police warning he was in danger of being attacked, he tried to shut the door.

a man sitting in front of a house: Police Scientific Support Officers in the garden of a house on Poplars Avenue. © Liverpool Echo Police Scientific Support Officers in the garden of a house on Poplars Avenue.

But Everton Army soldier Aaron Bretherton let off up to four shots before escaping in a Transit van, driven by accomplice Anthony Morris, and with "fixer" Lewis Fitzpatrick alongside him.

Today, some of the messages which show Rothwell and his gang's plot can be revealed.

In one, the Salford man typed to his friends: "Get me details, I fix these muppets…

"There two Burns dad and son," an alleged reference to Liam Byrne Jnr, and his father, Liam Byrne Snr.

Rothwell, in Barcelona, was using a Encrochat device to communicate with his team, the heavily encrypted platform, favoured by serious criminals.

The messaging service was penetrated last year and laid bare by European cyber experts which has led to thousands of arrests both in the UK and abroad, as a glimpse into that once-secret chat network put police forces everywhere one step ahead of criminals.

a car parked in front of a house: Police Scientific Support Officers on Poplars Avenue. © Liverpool Echo Police Scientific Support Officers on Poplars Avenue.

Rothwell, using the handle "Livelong," told one follower called "Caperocket": “I’m gonna do them all soon….

"Liam Burns and Chesney….

"Been trying to get there address….05 plate van he driving."

A bounty fee of £10,000 was offered by Rothwell for anyone willing to take on the job.

Livelong, aka Rothwell, asks Caperocket: "U can get his address."

Caperocket replies: "I’ll get on it today."

a sign on the side of a road: Poplars Avenue in Warrington © google Poplars Avenue in Warrington

After the shooting, on the evening of April 24, 2020, when the UK was in its first coronavirus lockdown, Rothwell shared a screenshot of an online news story about the Orford gun attack.

He boasted, using his Livelong handle: "I done two same time."

Caperocket asks him: "Who did you get, yesterday?"

Livelong replies: "I got the dad….Liam."

Caperocket was the handle used by a man called Alan Tobin, 51, of Regency Park, Widnes, who pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy before the trial began.

Also planned on the same evening was another attack, this time at the home of a man called Charlie Cullen, on Sinclair Avenue, in Longford.

a police car parked on a city street: Police on Poplars Avenue. © Liverpool Echo Police on Poplars Avenue.

A similar ruse was put into action, with a bogus pizza delivery man knocking on the front door.

But the present occupant who answered told the caller Mr Cullen no longer lived there and had moved away.

The rogue fast food man accepted the explanation and walked away.

This week, Aaron Bretheron, 24, of Netherfield Road South in Everton, Lewis Fitzpatrick, 26, of Eldersfield Road, Norris Green, and Anthony Morris, 23, of no fixed abode, were convicted by a jury of a catalogue of offences linked to the shooting

Bretherton previously admitted to being the gunman but, along with 25-year-old Fitzpatrick and 23-year-old Morris, denied being part of a conspiracy to shoot the victim’s stepson who was not at the address at the time of the attack.

However on Friday March 12, a jury found Bretherton, Fitzpatrick and Morris guilty of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm to the 26-year-old stepson following a three-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

Bretherton had tried to convince the jury he was operating as a "lone wolf" and not in tandem with Rothwell, but he was not believed.

A Glock 19 9mm handgun was recovered from the extractor of the cooker in his apartment and ammunition and a magazine located in a fan in the bathroom.

But tests of the bullet casings found outside Mr Barnes' address showed the gun at Bretherton's home was not the one used to shoot the 55-year-old.

The 24-year-old, who gave very little comment to officers in interview, did claim he was minding the firearm for "someone else."

During the trial, prosecutors said: "The first lockdown in March of 2020 caused most of us to work from home.

"But not the serious criminal.

"For the serious criminal, there was still business that needed to be taken care of and that, so far as they were concerned, required being out and about.

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"And so, it was that in April 2020, a man called Jamie Rothwell plotted with others to shoot individuals with whom he had grievance.

"This trial is, in part, about the plot to shoot one of those men, a man called Liam Byrne Jr.

"Of the men in the dock Aaron Bretherton was the gunman, Lewis Fitzpatrick was the arranger and Anthony Morris was the transport."

On the morning of the shooting, arranger Fitzpatrick got in touch with Bretherton when the serving solder was at his barracks in Chester.

The two then travelled to Warrington together on a reconnaissance mission to see the geography of the area on Poplars Avenue ahead of the shooting.

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Morris entered the fray later, taking his work white Transit van from the MOT and repair and service centre he worked for in Connah's Quay, and heading to Liverpool.

That vehicle was outside Bretherton's City View apartment before all three men met up and journeyed together to Warrington, arriving in the town at about 8.45pm.

Four of five minutes later, Mr Barnes was shot.

A Glock 19 9mm handgun was recovered from the extractor of the cooker in Bretherton’s apartment, while ammunition and a magazine were found in the fan in the bathroom.

But this was not the weapon used in the shooting of Mr Barnes.

After the attack on Mr Barnes, Morris' phone was used to search for "shooting in Warrington now”,“gun shooting Warrington", “Warrington police” and “man shot in Warrington today” as curiosity got the better of him to see how the crime was being reported in the media.

Bretherton, Fitzpatrick and Morris were found guilty of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm to the 26-year-old stepson following a three-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

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