Killer gunman compared himself to Marlon Dingle from Emmerdale

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A killer who shot dead a young rapper tried to compare himself to an Emmerdale character framed for murder.

Liam Watson was part of the gang who lured 21-year-old Miguel Reynolds from Manchester to Liverpool to buy a stolen Audi S1.

But after the victim was robbed at gunpoint, he chased after Watson with a lock knife, who "executed" him at point blank range in the chaos that followed.

Watson and his gang – including robbery 'mastermind' Kyle Sanders – told a series of ridiculous lies to the police and in court.

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After two trials, the deaths of two key witnesses and extraordinary claims that a bike abandoned at the murder scene belonged to a man with one leg, the ECHO can now tell the full story of how two thugs tried to get away with a brutal killing.

This includes Watson's jaw-dropping evidence, when he likened himself to Marlon Dingle, wrongly charged with murdering Graham Foster in the TV soap.

The 30-year-old asked a jury: "Do youse watch Emmerdale? Do youse feel sorry for Marlon? This is real life, this is me. Youse better feel sorry for me."

Sanders, 22, arranged for two "Manny kids" to buy an Audi for a cut-price £2,000 on the evening of Thursday, June 7, 2018.

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The deal was put together through a man he had previously met in prison, Cameron Russell, described as the "bridge" for the sale.

There was no Audi for sale.

Mr Reynolds, aka rising YouTube star 'Little Gwop Boy', travelled from Moss Side to Netherton with a friend, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Miguel Reynolds, 21, died after he was shot in Netherton

What happened next was outlined by Ian Unsworth, QC, prosecuting, at the opening of a first trial at Liverpool Crown Court in January 2020.

The victim and his friend arrived in a white Volkswagen Polo and parked near lock up garages in Marie Curie Avenue.

They were met by three men: Watson, Sanders and Joseph McKeever, one of whom pretended to be trying to open a garage as a "ruse".

Watson, wearing a distinctive blue coat and tracksuit bottoms, pulled out a gun, thought to be a 9mm Luger or modified Glock semi-automatic pistol.

He threatened to shoot Mr Reynolds' friend and the cash was handed over, before the Mancunians were told to get back in their car and go home.

Mr Reynolds decided he wasn't leaving empty handed.

He jumped out of the Polo, armed with a knife and chased after the gang. In a panic, Watson ditched his bike – the first of many mistakes.

Watson fired a warning shot in Henry Hickman Way, but that wasn't enough to deter Mr Reynolds, who followed him until they eventually leapt over a wooden fence into a communal garden in Finlay Court, off Assissian Crescent. The gunman was cornered.

Miguel Reynolds was shot dead on Assissian Crescent in Netherton, Merseyside on June 7, 2018

Watson turned and fired from a matter of metres at his pursuer, who ducked forward to try and avoid the bullet. It entered his neck and tore through his body.

The shooting, described by prosecutors as an "execution", was witnessed by pensioner Joyce Lennon, who was mopping her porch.

Ms Lennon, who has since died, rang 999 and said: "Oh God, I can't even breathe watching this, erm, I think somebody has just been shot a few yards away."

Crucially, she relayed that the killer, who left the victim "face down" in a pool of blood, was wearing a blue tracksuit.

Sanders and serial burglar McKeever, 30, had run off in a different direction, through the grounds of Netherton Health Practice, towards Marian Square in Bootle.

Kyle Sanders, 22, of Charles Best Green, Bootle

By this point Sanders had been handed the cash, which he clutched in two bags.

When he gave evidence at the first trial, he was questioned over the bags that could be seen in his hands on CCTV as he ran past shops.

Sanders – who suggested he was running away because he thought Mr Reynolds had a gun – said the bags in his hands contained not cash, but sweets.

He claimed they were jelly babies and liquorice, and that he got the bags out of his pockets because he didn't want to drop them if they fell out when he ran.

As paramedics fought to try and save Mr Reynolds, the gang regrouped at the home of another crook, Adam Hastings, in nearby Harrops Croft.

A police helicopter was scrambled and at 9.10pm a man was seen "behaving in an odd manner as if as if he was trying to avoid being seen".

The man, with distinctive red hair, hid under a small tree and porch, but CCTV showed him walking along Trawden Way.

This was Watson, who had changed his clothes, and by the time he was arrested exactly a month later, he had dyed his hair.

In his interview, Watson identified himself on CCTV, but wouldn't say who his associates were or where he was that night.

As for his new look hair? Watson claimed it had changed colour because of a heatwave.

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Mr Unsworth would tell the jury that Watson and the gang tried to put up a "wall of silence". McKeever – not thought to be any relation to his namesake who was murdered in north Liverpool in June 2017 – gave no comment. Other men accused of the murder and acquitted did the same.

But not everyone kept their mouths shut.

In the aftermath of the killing, Sanders had contacted Dale Avery, 26, who lived in a flat overlooking Marie Curie Avenue with the mum of his child, Emma Kirby.

Acting under his direction, Avery collected the bike Watson had left at the scene of the robbery.

Kirby, 23, would text Sanders to tell him Avery had removed it and later that there were police outside.

Dale Avery, 26, of Marie Curie Avenue, Netherton

Sanders also spoke to his girlfriend shortly after the killing, who replied by text: "You got me on edge badly, feel sick."

He replied: "I'm sorry babe had to be done though."

Sanders hid his phone, hid his clothes and stayed away from his home, but on June 11 handed himself into police, because he said he heard officers had raided his address and arrested his girlfriend.

He even took police to his phone and gave them the PIN. He had deleted incriminating texts, but hadn't realised some of these could be recovered.

His interviews were as haphazard as his actions.

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Sanders claimed a group of friends, who he wouldn't name, had asked if he knew anyone who wanted to buy a car for £1,800.

He accepted setting up the deal for £2,000, so he would make £200, and said the group included a man with red hair, wearing a blue tracksuit.

Sanders said this man later "squared up" to the buyer, before he decided to walk away, but heard a gunshot and ran, as the victim chased the red haired man.

He told police he later heard someone had been shot and killed and accepted that he ditched both his phone and his clothes as a result.

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Avery, who had 31 previous convictions for 58 offences, including two robberies, was no stranger to the inside of a police station, but he also talked extensively to officers.

He said Sanders used his home to store a Glock pistol and shotgun, and collected the guns – with a masked man in a blue tracksuit – that afternoon.

Avery claimed Sanders asked him to "come in on a job", but he refused, and Sanders – wearing gloves – collected the Glock and checked the bullets in the clip.

He said he heard Sanders say on the phone "the Mannys are coming down" and saw him running away after the incident, which he himself wasn't involved in.

The garages on Marie Curie Avenue in Netherton where Miguel Reynolds was robbed

Avery also suggested Sanders returned the next day and asked him to mind the shotgun again for £4,000, but he refused, and that Sanders told him he intended to flee to Spain.

Kirby, who had no criminal record, said Sanders came to her flat three days before the murder to ask her to mind a Nike holdall, which was very heavy, for £300.

The mum initially denied selling a bike on Facebook, but later admitted posting an advert for Avery's Carrera online, to raise some cash for her family.

In reality, it was Watson's bike, which he carelessly discarded when chased by his victim.

In a subsequent interview, Sanders said a man seen on CCTV in a Greggs store at the Marian Square earlier that day was the same man who squared up to Reynolds.

Emma Kirby, 21, was charged with assisting an offender

He said he didn't know Watson, but accepted knowing McKeever, identified one more co-accused, and said the bike referred to by Avery was used by the man in the blue tracksuit.

When cross-examined by Mr Unsworth during the first trial, Sanders wasn't so keen to name or identify his friends.

After denying any role in or knowledge of any robbery plot, Mr Unsworth asked what he regretted about the day, to which he replied: "A lot of things."

Sanders said he regretted being a link between "mates in Manchester" and "lads" in his area, but said he wasn't prepared to say who these lads were.

Floral tributes left on Assissian Crescent, Netherton

He said: "I have a family and I don't want to point the finger. My regrets are about myself."

Mr Unsworth asked what other regrets he had and whether they included "that you got a lad down from Manchester and he got shot?"

"I don't really have any regrets about that," said Sanders.

If Sanders' evidence showed a lack of remorse, Watson's was utterly shameless.

He told the jury at the first trial that he spent the evening of the murder drinking vodka and smoking cannabis with a disabled man, Mark Dixon.

The convicted heroin dealer and burglar claimed he was there because he was trying to help this man – who has since died – come off drugs.

Marlon Dingle was wrongly arrested for murdering Graham Foster in Emmerdale. Pictured: Mark Charnock as Marlon Dingle.

Watson said: "As to whether I was the gunman, this is simply not the truth and clearly not me."

He added: "I don't even know why I'm standing here right now, I went into my interview confident and told them everything I knew."

Watson then addressed the jury directly: "Do youse watch Emmerdale? Do youse feel sorry for Marlon? This is real life, this is me. Youse better feel sorry for me."

He said the suggestion he was at the scene, or robbed Reynolds, was "complete and absolute rubbish".

Watson explained that the bike he was seen riding on CCTV footage was this Mr Dixon's bike.

However, in his own evidence he later volunteered that the drug addict only had one leg.

During cross-examination, Mr Unsworth pointed out that he was claiming he was on a dead, one-legged man's bike.

"You're using a dead man as an alibi," stated the prosecutor. "I'm not," claimed Watson.

We will never know what the jury at the first trial thought of Watson's performance in the witness box.

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit last March, the 10-week trial over Mr Reynolds' death initially rumbled on.

However, with the jury having already been out for 12 hours of deliberation, one juror went into self-isolation.

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Due to a fear of cross-infection, High Court judge Mr Justice Sweeney discharged the jury "with a heavy heart".

Mr Reynolds' devastated family had to wait for nearly a year for the trial to resume, this time before Mr Justice Hilliard in January.

Once again, the same lies were trotted out.

Due to his ADHD, Watson was allowed regular breaks and even given a stress reliever toy to hold, as he denied that it was "convenient" his alibi was now dead.

Watson recalled how he had gone to smoke cannabis at a traveller site, "a quiet place", where he met a man called Paddy fixing his motorbike, before he bumped into some of his co-accused while "high as a kite", then headed to Mr Dixon's flat, where England were playing Costa Rica in the World Cup on TV.

Police at the scene on Assissian Crescent where Miguel Reynolds was shot dead.

Asked by his barrister why he hadn't mentioned in three separate interviews with police any of this, Watson claimed he "hadn't remembered".

He even expected the jury to believe that he hadn't heard about Mr Reynolds being shot dead until "some time after the event".

However, when Mr Dixon found out a month later he had been arrested over the murder and said it was "impossible" because he had been at his address, Watson claimed "it all came back to me".

"It was like a light bulb moment," he said.

Watson chose not to liken himself to Marlon Dingle – by this time cleared of any wrongdoing and released from prison in the ITV show – at the retrial.

The killer also decided he didn't fancy his far-fetched account being torn apart by one of the country's top silks a second time around.

Ian Unsworth, QC, from Liverpool, is one of the country's top prosecutors

Mid-evidence he refused to be cross-examined by Mr Unsworth, moaning: "I can't take this no more.

"I've been on remand for two years for something I haven't done.

"I'm innocent.

"I've spent the last two years in prison for something I didn't do."

Referring to the aborted first trial, he told the judge: "I'm sorry, my Lord, but I don't want to do this, no more.

"You've no idea what it's like.

"I don't want to give no more evidence."

Justice Hilliard tried to persuade Watson to continue, but he declined, but did answer one question put to him by Mr Unsworth.

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The barrister asked him: "I suggest you were the gunman that day?"

Watson replied: "That's not the truth."

He added: "I've told the truth, and if the jury wish to send me to prison for the rest of my life, an innocent man….

"This isn't my fault, the last trial got stopped, My Lord, they [the jury] aren't living like I am.

"I do not wish to give evidence.

"I can't keep going over and over this, I can't keep living this over and over again."

Mr Reynolds' family and his heartbroken girlfriend didn't have the same choice to stop reliving their torment.

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As she would tell the court after the trial: "The 7th of June, 2018. A day that replays itself over and over again in my memory. The day I received that heart shattering phone call. The day I lost my everything."

The young woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, added: "The amount of pain, discomfort and stress the experience of not just one trial but two trials have caused us is unexplainable.

"The lack of respect these defendants have shown by picking and choosing when and when not to come to court, along with the daily disrespect of falling asleep in court has left us disgusted as a family.

"The wall of silence which still remains around the defendants shows the lowness that these people will go to."

Liam Watson, 32, of Litherland Park, Litherland

Following an 11-week retrial, Watson was convicted of murder. He was jailed for life with a minimum of 30 years. Sanders was found guilty of manslaughter and locked up for 21 years, of which he will serve at least 14.

McKeever and Avery, convicted of plots to rob, possess a prohibited weapon and ammunition, were jailed for 12 and a half and 11 and a half years respectively. Avery appeared in a different dock via video link – his comments in his police interview seemingly not forgotten by his criminal associates.

"Vulnerable" and now pregnant Kirby, convicted of assisting an offender, was handed a suspended prison sentence and walked free from court.

Watson swaggered out of the dock when he was sent down, pausing only to flick the hair out of his eyes.

When Sanders and Avery joined him, Watson reappeared at the internal dock door and pointed towards two jurors who had returned to see the sentences passed, in a final menacing act of defiance.

Unfortunately for him, this wasn't a TV storyline, and he has the next three decades to spend behind bars.

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