Dead Gooch gang boss Lee Amos may have taken to his grave important information about one of south Manchester's most shocking shootings

It's almost 18 years since Jessie James, a boy of 15, was shot dead as he was riding his bike through a park in Moss Side. He had no involvement in gangs.

His only misfortune - the misfortune that cost him his life - was that he was cycling through a park in his neighbourhood which the notorious Doddington gang considered their own. For members of their trigger-happy rivals, the Gooch gang, it was an opportunity too good to miss. About nine shots were fired. To the gunman, the fact the target was a child wasn't important.

Jessie was shot four times in the chest and abdomen, collateral damage in the uber-violent gang war that was being waged in south Manchester at the time. It was perhaps the most shocking incident in a long-running feud littered with them. And to this day, the gunman has not been identified. It remains an unsolved murder. Almost two decades on, rewards for information remain unclaimed.

Officially, police remain open-minded about the motive for the shooting but for the detectives who investigated it, all roads led them to the same destination and the same man: a cold, calculated leader of the Gooch gang, Lee Amos.

On Monday, it was confirmed Amos, aged 48, had died that day at HMP Oakwood in Staffordshire where he was serving life with a minimum 35 years behind bars for a drive-by killing at a wake in 2007, a year after Jessie was shot dead. Perhaps he had no desire to see himself become the aged version of himself GMP had plastered all over billboards across south Manchester to ram home the length of the sentence.

The details of his death have not yet been revealed but Staffordshire Police have confirmed they have ruled out foul play and are not treating the death as suspicious. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman is investigating and there is expected to be an inquest.

For the detectives who investigated Jessie's murder, the death of Amos, known as 'Cabbo' in gangland Manchester, is a significant moment. It appears he has taken to the grave any knowledge, or even guilt, over the death.

One senior officer told the Manchester Evening News: "His name was in the mix. There's no doubt about that. But in the end there was no evidence that he pulled the trigger. For me, there were other stronger candidates but his name was certainly linked."

It was on the evening of September 8, 2006, 15-year-old Jessie Marvin James left his home on Greame Street in Moss Side for the last time. He cycled with a group of friends to a party at the West Indian Centre. They tried and failed to get in. The doormen turned them away.

Instead, they bought fizzy drinks and chatted in the car park before deciding they would cycle to another event on Caythorpe Street. The route took the group through Broadfield Park which at that time was considered by the Gooch gang’s bitter rivals, the Doddington gang, to be their turf.

The teenagers weren’t to know one or two gunmen were hiding in the bushes. Moments after entering the park through its Raby Street entrance, shots rang out. One witness saw flashes and a figure fall to the ground. Jessie’s friends would later offer varying accounts as to exactly how many shots were fired but the police believe there were nine in total. Jessie was shot four times in the chest and abdomen.

Scared for their lives, Jessie’s friends pedalled as fast as they could away from danger, unaware at first that one of them had been fatally wounded. When they realised they were one down, they began to call Jessie’s mobile. Of course, he was unable to answer.

They dialled repeatedly until they had the courage to return to Broadfield Park, or The Rec as it was known in Moss Side. Still calling him, they followed the ringtone of Jessie’s mobile and then finally saw its facia lit up on the ground in the darkness. Beside the handset was Jessie’s body at the rear of the Powerhouse youth centre.

Police timed the shots at about 1am on September 9. By the time one of Jessie’s young friends made a 999 call on his mobile – timed at 2.38am – Jessie was already dead. Just after noon that day, police were holding a press conference in Raby Street confirming details of a murder.

The park was a perfect place for the gunman to strike and had been used before by Gooch gang members who were able to hide there in the darkness. Whoever fired the fatal shots, it is clear they were determined and more than capable of handling the weapon which fired those bullets, a powerful semi-automatic handgun.

In the hands of a novice, the bullets would probably have scattered everywhere rather than with the precision demonstrated that night in Broadfield Park.

But why was Jessie shot and no one else? His tyre tracks showed he had cycled away from his mates and ridden over a small grassy mound, perhaps performing a trick. He had moved away from the pack and would have been an obvious, isolated target. CCTV footage which was later released by police showed two hooded figures cycling away from the park. They were never traced. Police believed one or both had shot Jessie.

One man who was most certainly capable of firing those shots was Lee Amos. He had only just come out of prison on licence, having been jailed for nine years in 2001. He and five other Gooch gang members, casually wearing body armour, had been caught with an arsenal of weapons including a Skorpion sub-machine gun when police raided a home on Ruskin Close in Moss Side.

Amos was regarded by the police as the Gooch gang’s ‘best weapon’ as he was ‘cool, calm and collected’. Detectives referred to Cabbo rather less deferentially as 'Cabbage'.

So did Amos help in the murder Jessie even if he didn't pull the trigger? The M.E.N. revealed in 2016 cell-site analysis showed Amos’ mobile phone had been active at the time of the murder close to the scene where Jessie was gunned down. It was one of the investigation team’s early lines of enquiry but one that would eventually end in frustration.

One problem was that the cell concerned did not cover Broadfield Park but an adjacent area. Police always suspected there was more than one finger on the trigger, in any event, and Amos was suspected of being involved, perhaps not in the shooting itself, but in arranging for the murder weapon to be delivered and then disposed of following the shooting.

The detective went on: "Those boys were only targeted because they were in that park. They were seen as Doddington lads in a Doddington area of the Alex Park. They were seen as fair game. Whoever it was stood behind a wall and shot randomly at a group of lads on bikes. Lee Amos was more a close up shooter, an executioner. It's not beyond the realms of possibility but there was never any evidence.

"Those lads were in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong territory. For me, that was the reason for the shooting. The Gooch gang had guns and had paid a lot of money for them and why not go and use them from behind a wall? They thought they must be Doddington lads."

The year after Jessie was murdered, Amos and four other Gooch gang members opened fire at a wake. Mourners dived for cover but Tyrone Gilbert, 24, was killed. Amos had also been suspected over the murder of the man for whom the wake was being held – Ucal Chin – but the jury which convicted him of the Gilbert murder couldn’t reach a verdict and the judge ordered that the charge ‘lie on file’.

It was only when Amos and fellow Gooch gang leader Colin Joyce were recalled to prison in the months after Jessie’s murder that the rate of shootings – there were 146 recorded firearms incidents in Manchester in 2007 – began to subside. Their key role in creating mayhem in south Manchester was obvious.

It was the tragic misfortune of Jessie, a City fan who wanted to be an electrician, that was that he was out at a time when tensions between the Doddington and Gooch gangs were sky high.

It was little consolation to Jessie’s family and mother Barbara Reid, but his murder at the age of just 15 was a catalyst for a change in the way police operated in Moss Side and the rest of south Manchester. The old practice of merely reacting to each incident was abandoned.

Instead, a small but extremely dedicated team of plain-clothes detectives was assembled and – given the name XCalibre – they made it their business to get to know each gang member. XCal, as they were known on the streets, were on first name terms with them and repeatedly stop-searched them if they suspected they were up to no good.

Meanwhile, the murder of Jessie James remains unsolved, and his family have had to live with the fact justice still hasn't been done.

A statement from Greater Manchester Police said: "No case is ever closed. Undetected murders are regularly reviewed. We are determined to bring Jesse's killers to justice. Anyone with any information should contact Crimestoppers or Cold Case Unit: 0161 856 5961.”

A reward of £50,000 remains in place for information that leads to the arrest of Jessie's killer or killers.