A nine year old girl was fatally shot on Monday 22 August, when a man being chased by a rival gunman forced his way into her Liverpool home. Olivia Pratt-Korbel was shot in the chest as her mother struggled with the men at the front door of her house in Kingsheath Avenue, in the Dovecot area of the city, at about 10pm.
The gunman “fired indiscriminately” hitting Olivia, as well as her mum Cheryl Korbel in the wrist, and then the chased man several times to his body. Neither the gunman or his target, who it has since been established is a 35 year old, had any previous connection to that address, or anybody within the family, Merseyside Police have confirmed.
Although the police are still trying to understand what exactly happened in this tragic incident, it is thought that two men were walking along Kingsheath Avenue and were approached by a lone person who was wearing a black, padded jacket, a black balaclava and black gloves. Descriptions have the men at around 5 feet 7 inches tall, of slim build, with the firearm used being a handgun.
The force says shots were fired at the two men in the street, who then ran away. Olivia’s mother is thought to have heard all the commotion outside and opened the front door to see what was going on. One of the men is then thought to have seen this as a means of escape and attempted to force his way into the house, with the armed person following and is believed to have put his hand through the open door. Olivia’s mum apparently tried to close the door and stop the people entering her property, but the gunman opened fire, fatally hitting Olivia, as well as her mother in the wrist, and his intended target in the upper body.
Emergency services were called and the stricken nine year old child was taken to nearby Alder Hey hospital in a critical condition, but her injury was too severe and she sadly died a short time later. The wounded man was driven away at speed before the Ambulance had arrived, callously leaving poor Olivia and Ms Korbel suffering with their injuries. This vehicle, a black Audi, has since been seized by the police.
Two older siblings, who were also in the house at the time of the attack, were unharmed.
At a hastily arranged press conference, Chief Constable Serena Kennedy of Merseyside Police, appealed for anyone with information to come forward immediately, adding that now was “not the time to remain tight-lipped.” She started by saying that Olivia’s family were “absolutely devastated, inconsolable and completely heartbroken.” She went on: “This is a shocking and appalling attack which will reverberate around our communities. We need to find all of the people who are responsible for this, not just the gunman, but we need to find those that supplied the weapon and those who were behind arranging this terrible incident.”
She then appealed to Liverpool’s “criminal fraternity” for vital information, as Olivia’s death was “an absolute tragedy and crosses every single boundary. The people of Liverpool and Merseyside are known for their compassion and pulling together in times of crisis. It is time for our communities to come together and make Merseyside a place where the use of guns on our streets is totally unacceptable, and those who use them are held to account.” She said with an air of frustration and sadness.
She added forensic experts were at the scene conducting house-to-house inquiries and officers were reviewing CCTV footage in the area to help establish and identify who was responsible for this “horrific crime.”
Assistant Chief Constable Jenny Sims said the family were being supported by specially trained liaison officers, before adding: “This is a truly shocking incident; no parent should ever have to suffer the loss of a child in these dreadful circumstances. This crime is abhorrent and this cowardly individual does not deserve to be walking the streets a minute longer, and I would urge those who know anything to speak to us and tell us what they know, so that we can put this person behind bars where they belong.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Kameen said officers had not yet interviewed the injured man, who has now been arrested but remains in hospital. He is in a serious, although not life-threatening condition. He told reporters Merseyside had gone 13 months without a fatal shooting before three killings happened in the space of a week. Whilst accepting that Liverpool and surrounding districts has “historically had a gun crime problem” he pointed out that in recent years shootings had fallen by more than 50 per cent, from more than a 100 a year, to around the 45 mark that it is presently.
He believes Olivia’s killer will have links to “organised crime,” and appealed to Merseyside’s criminals that its notorious “no grass” culture “should not stand in this case.” He added: “This murder has taken violent crime to another level. There should be no sort of culture around not grassing, we simply cannot have these individuals on our streets.”
Marie Reilly, who has lived in the area for 36 years, said her partner heard four gunshots, which had sounded like fireworks going off. She said the fact it happened on her doorstep was scary and recent violence in the city was “getting too close” before adding: “I think it is time to move.”
Fellow resident Sarah Halliday said it was “absolutely disgusting to wake up and find that a nine year old girl has been shot dead.” Her partner Scott Mason added it was “scary for men, because women and kids are getting shot. You are scared of your girlfriend and your daughter going to the shop… are they going to come back?”
Another man who wished to remain anonymous, said he knew the family and was devastated by Olivia’s death. He said: “They are a quiet family and Olivia was lovely; very pleasant, very polite, and very kind. She would play out in the street with the other kids. It is heartbreaking, devastating. There are families around here that will not feel safe from now on.”
School in state of disbelief
The kind-hearted, joyful and popular little girl was about to start Year 5 at her school, St Margaret Mary’s Catholic Juniors, in Huyton, Merseyside.
Olivia’s head teacher Rebecca Wilkinson, described her as a “much-loved member of our school” with a “beautiful smile, a lovely sense of humour, and a bubbly personality. She would always try to help others, and was very popular with all of her peers. She loved to perform and recently participated in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. Olivia will be missed greatly by staff and children at our school, we are all in a state of shock and disbelief.”
Father John Ealey, whose parish includes Kingsheath Avenue, said: “The community has been left stunned. It is a very poor area, and there is lots of relative poverty and drug dealing going on and people being injured as they are caught in the crossfires.” He asked people to pray for the family and the community, saying incidents like this are “happening more and more.”
Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson said it was an “appalling act of evil” and urged anyone with information to come forward, adding: “Guns have no place in our communities.” The killing came fifteen years to the day after 11 year old Rhys Jones was shot dead in the Croxteth area of the city, by a 16 year old, aiming his gun at a rival gang member. She observed: “Fifteen years to the day, I can barely believe history is repeating itself. Another innocent child of our city becomes a victim to gun crime. Has nothing been learned? Enough is enough. If you know something, you must come forward.”
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, offered his condolences to the family and said he has ensured Merseyside Police “get whatever they need to catch those responsible.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel offered her “heartfelt condolences” to Olivia’s family and said Merseyside Police had her “full support and will receive any additional resources that they need.”
Long-serving Liberal Democrats councillor Richard Kemp said: “Ninety five per cent of people in Liverpool are as straight and honest as any place, but we have a political class and an underclass to whom none of that applies. The murder of nine year old Olivia is certainly a wake-up call. The trouble is most of the people that commit these crimes are not open to solutions because they come from backgrounds and communities where the normal thought process is totally missing.”
Olivia’s death came after a spate of recent killings involving guns and knives on Merseyside. On the same night a woman was discovered in a pub car park with a fatal stab wound in her chest, which followed the shootings of two other people in separate areas of Liverpool, over the previous week. There have been more than 30 reported incidents involving weapons in Liverpool in the past cople of months. Merseyside Police said there was nothing to indicate that Olivia’s shooting was linked to other recent killings, but officers were keeping an open mind to follow any potential leads.
Last year Merseyside Police recorded over 200 firearm offences, placing it in the top 10 of worst affected areas in England and Wales. Liverpool city council looks set to be taken under full control by the Government amid the continuing fallout of political scandals and financial struggles, with debts expected to hit almost £100m by 2025. In the streets near to where Olivia was killed, there certainly remains a palpable fear that gun violence is never far away “Buying a gun is like buying a packet of crisps around here,” said a mum whose daughters knew Olivia from school. “I feel sick about how her mum must be feeling. It is disgusting, you cannot even keep your kids safe in your own home.”
Floral tributes were left next to the cordon on Kingsheath Avenue, many of which contained touching messages. One tribute read: “Words cannot describe how this tragedy has turned this city upside down. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this terribly sad time. Rest in Peace little one.” Another said: “A precious little angel has been taken too soon. God bless. Sleep tight Olivia.” Whilst a third read: “R.I.P Olivia, it feels like only yesterday you were in my garden laughing and playing.”
A darker side to the city
Very few cities outside of London have a richer cultural past than Liverpool. Locals quite rightly take pride in their city for the huge numbers of famous people it has produced; but there is also a darker side to the city which is linked to violence, fuelled by the drugs trade and guns.
A report released recently found that 70 per cent of all links to weapons examined in Britain led back to Liverpool and the north-west of England, where it was discovered that the area was home to a network of gun factories, which were converting low-calibre weapons into deadly automatic firearms, for enormous profit.
The majority of the shootings and stabbings do not make the national headlines, but sometimes they need to. The shocking murder of little nine year old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, brutally shot dead in her own home, whilst sheltering behind her doting mother, where she, and every other child should feel completely safe, is a horrifying reminder that there are certain individuals, who are perfectly prepared to commit the most appalling of crimes, on even the most innocent of victims.
These people are so embedded into gang culture, that they have a twisted grip on reality; existing in a parallel world and seemingly nobody is off limits to their wickedness, and sadly there does not appear to be any answer to them. They can be found in most cities up and down the country, with Liverpool very much at the forefront.