Five men, one still on the run, ordered to serve minimum terms of 12 to 22 years for involvement in Liverpool attacks
A leader of an underworld gang who escaped from a prison van last summer on the way to his trial has been jailed for life.
Anthony Downes, 26, was arrested in the Netherlands last week after eight months on the run. Downes and an associate, Kirk Bradley, both fled from a van while on their way to Liverpool crown court in July 2011. Bradley, 26, is still wanted by Merseyside police.
On Friday at Woolwich crown court, Downes and Bradley were both sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 22 years after being convicted in their absence of conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to endanger life and conspiracy to cause damage with intent to endanger life.
Downes and Bradley were the ringleaders of a group responsible for a series of shootings and leaving a hand grenade on the front wall of the Liverpool football manager Kenny Dalglish's home, jurors heard during the trial.
Dalglish was not the gang's intended target, the court heard. Instead it is thought the device was aimed at a neighbour of Dalglish, John Ball, a businessman who was also the target of two shootings.
Three other men received life sentences after admitting possessing firearms and causing criminal damage with intent to endanger life. Gary Wilson, 27, from Southport, was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years, Craig Riley, 25, of Stockbridge Village, will serve a minimum of 14 years and Joseph Farrell, 23, of Knowsley, a minimum of 12 years.
Downes, of no fixed address, and Bradley, from Formby, Merseyside, described themselves as "blood brothers", the court was told during the trial. They ran a two-year campaign of terror against the people of Liverpool but avoided personal involvement with numerous shootings and bootings. Instead, they ordered other men to carry out their instructions.
Downes was serving a seven-year jail stretch for multiple attacks on cash machines, but he remained the "chief executive controlling and organising events from his prison cell," said Mr Justice Henriques.
He was arrested last week in Zeeland while checking into holiday accommodation. He was caught with a loaded revolver and two fake passports.
The judge said of Bradley, who was convicted of robbery aged 15: "[He] is plainly a very dangerous man. Any right-thinking member of the public would feel abhorrence and outrage at this merciless campaign which Bradley oversaw and co-managed."
Among their crimes, which took place between 2009 and 2010, the gang were responsible for kidnapping and shooting a man and abandoning him in a wood; for shooting another man in a pub; for a man being gunned down because he ejected gatecrashing troublemakers from a party, and for various grenade attacks.
Between June 2008 and March 2010 there were seven hand-grenade explosions in the UK, five of which happened in Merseyside. One device was launched into the home of a man targeted by the gang. The intended victim was asleep upstairs with his partner and two children during the attack. He later told police that the bomb "blew the place to bits".
One of the other defendants, Riley, was a "highly significant" gang member who played a part in several attacks. Another, Farrell, admitted providing a firearm for the shooting of two men and providing another gun used to spray a house with bullets.
Making reference to the murder of the schoolboy Rhys Jones in 2007, who was caught in the crossfire of a Liverpool gang war, Mr Justice Henriques said: "Merseyside has learned the hard way when it comes to stray bullets."
Downes will be flown back from the Netherlands to begin serving his time.