In the northeast of Scouserland, aka Croxteth, Liverpool, there lies a delightful old stately home. About 500 acres of it were made into a country park in 1972 and all through the year, families take day trips there to frolic in the fields, eat ice cream, and have a go on the swings. It’s bloody lovely, it is.
But sadly for the holidaymakers, the area directly surrounding the park is run by a multitude of submachine-gun-firing gangs, the average age of which is around 15 years old. These kids were all busy getting on with their day-to-day trade of shooting each other and supplying the city’s junkies with regular supplies of crack and heroin, all well underneath the public radar, until one of them mistakenly shot an 11-year-old named Rhys Jones in the back of the head during a gang fight just over a year ago.
Soon after, British true-crime author and undercover reporter par excellence Graham Johnson traveled up to Croxteth with photographer Stuart Griffiths to get in good with the children who run these gangs. This is what they came back with.
Vice: Tell us about some of the teenage gang members you met.
There’s one kid from the Huyton area. He was in a gang called the Moss Edz. He was 14. Let’s call him John. We talked in his mum’s back kitchen while he was doing the dishes and he told me he’d been involved in over 30 firearms incidents, including shooting at rival gang members, being shot at, and “spraying up” houses with rapid-fire machine guns. He told me how he would avoid getting caught through forensic evidences by burning his “Lowies”—the gang’s all-black uniform of Lowe Alpine mountain gear with all-black Reebok classic trainers and black trapper’s hats. Oh, and they wear ski masks too.
I like it. It’s a strong look.
They also wash their hands in gasoline to get rid of gunpowder traces. He told me all this while eating a dinner made up of Haribo sweets, packs of crisps, a chocolate bar, and a bottle of Lucozade.
Sounds delicious—but not very nutritious. Did you meet any of his friends?
Yeah. The leader of John’s gang was a kid called Lee and he was also 14. I met him with a kid called Kevin who received a gunshot wound in his leg when he was 12. They told me that Kevin’s 17-year-old brother Alfie had just got shot in the arse, then took a taxi to hospital. I met Alfie later that day and when I asked him what it was like to be shot he said he “wasn’t arsed” and that it was normal to be shot.
Why was he shot?
He insulted a local drug dealer’s mum.
And what happened after he got out of the hospital?
They shot a rifle at said local drug dealer’s mum’s house. In response, the drug dealer walked down the street where Alfie, Kevin, and Lee lived and he just shot a semiautomatic into the air and into houses and down the alleyways where the kids sell drugs.
Um, so then the cops came and shot this guy down in the street, right?
Nope. They told me nobody could be bothered to call the police so they left it alone. The drug dealer was connected to a rival gang called the Dovey Edz, from the neighboring Dovecot area, and stuff like this happens all the time. Maybe ten years ago or so it would have been settled with a fistfight or a knife but now the little kids all have access to powerful firearms. You can see it’s true for yourself by going on YouTube. They make videos of themselves carrying guns and driving stolen cars through council estates and set them to rap music. Often the films have messages to rival gangs in them to the effect of “We are going to come and kill you using all of our guns.”
What sort of firearms do they have?
There was one kid I heard about, nicknamed Fuji, who shot himself in his own foot while he was threatening another gang member. When the police eventually raided his house they found an SA-80 army-issue assault rifle—the same used by British soldiers in Afghanistan—underneath his bed next to a load of Xbox games. This gun fires 110 rounds a minute. The police said the weapon had been used to spray up a house in an unrelated incident.
So is it all shooting houses and accidental foot wounds?
No. Not at all. As you know, there’s a big trial coming up concerning the death of the 11-year-old boy who was shot by, they say, a 14-year-old, as he was coming back from football practice. And I met a lady called Donna Smith whose son, Liam “Smigger” Smith, was a member of a gang called Noggadogz and had his head blown off with a shotgun by the gates of a prison because he’d had cross words with a rival gang member on a visit to one of his mates. His mother described to me how she’d never seen blood pour out of anyone like that. “It was like running a tap,” she said.
Poor lady. Are you still in touch with her?
No. Sadly, she died shortly afterward of natural causes. That was the only interview she gave.
So we’ve got the Moss Edz, the Dovey Edz, and now the Noggadogz. What kind of environments do they live in?
Well, the Noggadogz live in places like the Boot Estate, which used to be the largest council estate in Europe.
I bet it’s nice there, yeah?
Hmm. It actually looks like a cross between a war-torn Bosnian village and the set of
Escape From New York
. It’s the perfect environment for gangs to operate in. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to stash weapons and drugs. They need the weapons because there’s currently a war going on between them and their main rivals, the Croxteth Crew. They say that this war is what could have lead to innocent Rhys Jones to getting shot.
Who’s the older guy standing in front of the BMW [above]?
That’s Stephen French. He’s known as “The Devil” in Liverpool.
He used to kidnap and torture young drug dealers in the Norris Green area of Liverpool and take the money they’d make from selling heroin and crack. He said he needed to feed his family and help pay his friend’s electricity bills.
Ha ha ha.
Yeah, he’s been likened to a black Robin Hood in Liverpool by his allies. He was totally feared by the drug dealers though because nobody knew who this mysterious kidnapper guy was. I wrote a book about his life and when I went up north with Stuart Griffiths to photograph these teenage gangs we bumped into each other and I asked him what he thought about it all.
What did he say?
Well, he blames himself partially for the rise of firearm use by children in the city because when he started operation, some 10 to 15 years ago, he created this climate of fear in the younger, small-time dealers who’d previously only really had rival gang stabbings or short custodial sentences to worry about. When they found out they were directly at risk from a guy called “The Devil” who was kidnapping and torturing them and stealing their money they all started to arm themselves for protection.
Yeah. Anyway, now he’s given up crime and is involved in something called the Andrew John Centre where kids from deprived areas like the one we’re talking about can learn things like wallpapering, motor mechanics, and woodwork. These days “The Devil” is a social campaigner.
Yeah, I still wouldn’t fuck with him though. What does he think about all these gang members now?
He said that he’s terrified of them.
INTERVIEW BY ANDY CAPPER