A violent gang member who arranged for an explosive device to be placed on the driveway of a family home in Warrington to send a fearful message to a rival gang has been jailed for life.
William ‘Billy’ Jones, aged 29, of Forster Street, Warrington was today (Thursday 2 May) told he will serve a minimum of six years.
Jones was found guilty of conspiracy to possess an explosive device following a five week trial at Liverpool Crown Court. At the time he arranged for the device to be placed on the driveway he was on prison licence for murdering a man in 2006.
Robert Musson, aged 33, of Bernard Avenue, Warrington and Wesley Williamson, aged 31, of Grasmere Avenue, Warrington were acquitted of conspiracy to possess an explosive device but previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and will be sentenced next week. Another man Paul Jones, aged 38, of Biggin Court, Warrington had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and was jailed for four years.
It was at 12.30am on Saturday 24 February 2018 that a 999 call was made from a telephone kiosk on Knutsford Road in Latchford alerting the police to a hand grenade under a car on Cleveland Road. While giving evidence Musson admitted making the call but told the jury he simply wanted to alert the police.
The car was parked on the driveway of a house with a couple and four children asleep inside.
Police arrived at the address to find the firing pin still in the grenade and the family were evacuated from their home.
A 50 metre cordon was immediately set up around the house. The Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team declared it a viable device, primed to explode and it was immediately removed to a secure location where it was safely destroyed.
The prosecution said Jones was part of a group who had arranged for the grenade to be placed at the address in order to put extreme fear into his intended victims.
During Jones’ police interview he told detectives he had ‘never touched a grenade in his life’ but forensic analysis of the device found his DNA was on the safety pin – this proved he had direct contact with it.
The incident with the grenade was part of a series of ‘tit for tat’ acts of retribution in Warrington that began after Cheshire Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) dismantled a large drugs gang in January 2018 – codenamed Operation Samurai – a conspiracy to supply cocaine and firearms.
The first attack took place on Thursday 22 February 2018 when a gymnasium on Bewsey Road was deliberately set on fire.
On Friday 23 February 2018 the arson triggered a retaliation and resulted in a BMW car being set alight while parked on Honister Avenue. The main driver of that vehicle was the girlfriend of Leon Cullen. Two bricks were also thrown through the kitchen window of the house Cullen shared with his girlfriend on Honister Avenue.
Detective Chief Inspector Mike Evans, from Cheshire Constabularies Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “Jones deliberately left a viable explosive under a vehicle to send a warning demonstrating the group’s criminal capabilities.
“This came without a second thought for the destruction and devastation it could have caused to our local community had the safety pin been removed. Jones wanted the police to know about the device to send a clear message with the intention of instilling fear and intimidation.
“Today’s sentencing sends out our own clear message. We will stop at nothing to investigate those who harm our communities and we will not rest until those involved realise Cheshire is a very difficult place to operate.
“To those who suggest drug supply is a victimless crime, I hope this highlights to them the violence and feuds that take place behind the scenes.
“Musson and Williamson were pivotal in controlling a lucrative cocaine market in Warrington. Despite using a number of other criminals to do their dirty work to evade prosecution they were caught by detectives and had no choice but to admit they were part of organised drug crime.
Detectives are still appealing for information on the whereabouts of Leon Cullen who remains wanted by police in relation to Operation Samurai. Anyone who has information can call Crimestoppers in strict confidence on 0800 555 111. A substantial reward remains available if information given directly leads to his arrest.
DCI Evans added: “Protecting our communities from serious and organised crime is paramount and we need the public’s support in providing us with information to disrupt this criminality.
“If you do not feel comfortable speaking to a police officer then you can pass information anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”