A teenage kingpin whose growing drugs empire led to terror on the streets of Liverpool has been sentenced to over nine years behind bars.
17-year-old Harry O’Brien was just 16 when he took over as leader of a squad of drug dealers behind three shootings and a firebombing in the city’s Dingle suburb.
Granted automatic anonymity because of his young age, journalists at the Liverpool Echo won a court challenge to name O’Brien when he was jailed for nine years and three months on April 28.
O’Brien used ruthless tactics to gain control of his turf, which would be shocking from a seasoned crime boss, let alone a teenager.
One attack saw bullets fired from an Audi at a BMW, as the two cars raced side-by-side through the city at night. A stray bullet flew through the front door of an ‘entirely innocent’ family’s home and landed on their hallway stairs.
Another time, a gunman on an electric bike peppered a family’s living room with bullets and fired into another victim’s bedroom.
Finally, O’Brien had petrol poured through the letterbox of a house and set it ablaze, as a mother and her children ran for their lives.
17-year-old Harry O’Brien led a crime group who brought terror to the streets of Liverpool with three shootings and a firebomb. Police say the streets are safer now that he has been jailed for nine years and eight months
At Liverpool Crown Court, Judge Neil Flewitt QC said he had no doubt they were ‘the manifestation of a feud’ between O’Brien’s gang and ‘others’ with ‘whom they had a real or perceived grievance, the nature of which has not emerged’.
Judge Flewitt said: ‘Unhappily, the lives of wholly innocent people, including young children, were put at risk by the callous and cowardly actions of all those involved.’
The court was told O’Brien planned and took part in all three shootings, ‘orchestrated the arson’, and the cannabis plot was ‘his enterprise’.
David Temkin, QC, prosecuting, said Harry O’Brien was ‘at the heart of the criminality’ while his ‘lieutenants’ Michael McClean, then 16, and Aaron Donohoe, then 19, were given ‘managerial responsibility’ over his drug trade.
Daniel Lawler, 19, joined O’Brien as ‘trusted’ henchman and carried out two of the shootings, which all involved the same Glock semi-automatic gun – never recovered by police.
At the age of just 16, cannabis dealer O’Brien became the boss of a teen crew behind three terrifying shootings and a firebombing
The first shooting took place late on December 29, 2020, after the unknown occupants of a silver BMW X5 driving around Dingle Lane deliberately ‘rammed’ into another BMW on which was being driven by O’Brien’s mother, with O’Brien, McClean, Donohoe and an unknown fourth male in the car as passengers.
O’Brien’s mother rang police at 10.30pm to report the crash as her son and his gang fled.
Mr Temkin said: ‘What happened next was revenge.’
Armed with a loaded gun, O’Brien, McClean, Donohoe and the fourth male set off in the Audi, with banned driver McClean at the wheel.
Three shots were fired at the BMW on Dingle Lane, with one piercing the front door of a ‘shocked’ couple and their seven-year-old child’s home.
Mr Temkin said: ‘They were in the process of going to bed. They heard screeching car tyres and found a bullet on the hallway stairs.’
The QC said evidence given by Lawler at trial revealed O’Brien was in ‘some sort of dispute’ with ‘the Franchetti and Rosario family’.
Aaron Donohoe (left), 20, was a lieutenant of teenage drug boss Harry O’Brien (right), 17
Over the next three weeks, O’Brien arranged to buy a Sur-Ron electric bike. O’Brien and Lawler set off on the bike – one armed with the pistol – on January 8 last year. Just after 8:45pm, Donna Rosario rang police to say shots were fired at her home.
Mr Temkin said: ‘She, her partner Ian Franchetti, and their daughter were at home in the living room at the time.’
Three bullets were found embedded in her living room wall and ceiling.
A third shooting occurred just after 1am on January 20. O’Brien and Lawler, on the same bike, targeted the Heffey family, firing at an upstairs bedroom where 24-year old Joel Heffey was asleep, an associate of the Franchetti group.
Finally, the gang targeted the house of Claire Bowness, at home with her three teenage children, who was a member of the Rosario family.
Mr Temkin said this arson attack was the ‘brainchild’ of O’Brien, who sought the help of a 14-year-old boy, from Toxteth, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
O’Brien also enlisted Sian Kanu, then 19, who recruited Mohammed Mohammed, then 19, to carry out the attack. On the morning of February 5, Mohammed filled a petrol canister and poured it through the letterbox of Ms Bowness’s home to start a fire.
Mr Temkin said: ‘The fire spread some way into the property, moving from the hallway, to the staircase and to the upper floor.
‘Claire Bowness and the Rosario children, with their dog, managed to escape out of the rear of the property. However, they all required medical treatment for smoke inhalation.’
On February 12, police raided the home of O’Brien’s grandparents, who lived next door to him in the suburb of Aigburth. They found £13,590 in cash in a plastic bag in the loft. One note bore their grandson’s fingerprint.
O’Brien was also seen with wads of cash in Liverpool city centre on April 26.
He was arrested at his aunt’s home on July 1, where police found some £5,000 of cannabis plus cash, mobile phones, two knives and an axe.
Police also raided the home of Nathan Kelly, 28, a customer of O’Brien’s gang, on April 21, where two revolvers were retrieved along with other ammunition.
Following a spate of arrests, those said to be involved in the shootings and arson attack were charged with conspiring to possess a firearm, and to commit arson, both with intent to endanger life.
Ahead of a trial, O’Brien admitted lesser offences of conspiring to possess a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, and conspiring to commit arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, which the Crown accepted.
He had already admitted conspiracy to supply cannabis. Richard Pratt QC, mitigating, said O’Brien had ‘diagnoses in the past of ADHD’ and was described as ‘a risk taker’.
Mr Pratt added: ‘It may well be those illnesses, through no fault of his own, have contributed to this conduct.’
Judge Flewitt locked O’Brien up for nine years and eight months, with an extended three years on licence. He must serve at least two-thirds of that sentence behind bars, before he can apply for parole.
Lawler, 21, of Woolton, was found guilty of the firearm plot and admitted unrelated charges of dangerous driving and handling stolen goods. He was locked up for eight years, with an extended two years on licence. He too must serve at least two-thirds of that term.
McClean, 18, of Toxteth, admitted the cannabis and firearm plots. At trial he admitted two counts of possessing a prohibited firearm and possessing ammunition. He was locked up for eight-and-a-half years.
Donohoe, 20, of Toxteth, admitted the cannabis and firearm plots, on the basis he was only involved in the first shooting. He was locked up for six years and four months.
Jurors couldn’t reach a verdict against Kanu, 20, of Toxteth, on the arson plot. He later admitted participating in the criminal activities of an organised crime group. He was locked up for two years and three months.
Also at trial, the unnamed boy, now 15, admitted the arson plot. He was handed a two-year Youth Rehabilitation Order, with a six-month home curfew, between 8pm and 7am daily.
Mohammed, 20, of Toxteth, and Kelly, 28, of Belle Vale, will be sentenced at later dates.
Source: Daily Mail