Phone call started events that led to teenager's brutal death

When Michael Toohey stopped on London Road to speak with a group of friends, little did he know he was being watched by a teenager whose phone call would start a chain of events that would end in his murder.

The 18-year-old dad-to-be was murdered by a violent mob who chased him into an internet cafe before unleashing a ferocious and sustained beating. The staggering violence that took place in broad daylight in a busy part of the city centre shocked Merseyside - and resulted in a near-two month trial at Liverpool's crown court.

The two-year anniversary of the murder of Mr Toohey - described by his family as "a loving son and kind-hearted brother" - passed on April 16 this week. The ECHO has revisited the story to remember a young man who was taken from his loving family in the most brutal of ways.

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Mr Toohey, who lived on Oil Street in Vauxhall, came from a big family that had already experienced heartbreak when his cousin Johnny Delaney died following an attack in Ellesmere Port in 2003. Mr Toohey was academic at school and left Everton Free School at 17 to go and work with his brother-in-laws in a family business.

Mr Toohey had been in a relationship with girlfriend Rhianna Draper and had recently moved into a new house together. The pair were due to have a baby boy, with the teenager "so excited for what the future had in store for them". His family later remembered him as someone who was "adored by everybody who had the pleasure to meet him".

Mr Toohey departed the bus on London Road at around 5.30pm on the day of his murder. A then 14-year-old boy saw the man four years his senior stop to speak with friends, pulled out his phone and told a man called Michael Williams that Mr Toohey was in the city centre.

Michael Williams was the brother of Keiron - a snarling bearded thug who was either the head or near the top of an Everton-based organised crime group (OCG) involved in a "turf war" with another gang, although, even now two years on, the full facts of the rivalry are not clear. For whatever reason, he was after Mr Toohey.

In a flurry of calls, Michael Williams in turn told third brother Anthony who then called Keiron. Those calls set in motion a gang attack that ended in murder. Within minutes, Keiron Williams had arrived on the scene in a white Golf estate and chased Mr Toohey, who tried to cycle away before throwing his bike to the ground and running into the Mobiles Junction internet café with the thug in hot pursuit.

Michael Toohey died aged 18 after an incident at Mobiles Junction and Internet Café in Liverpool city centre
Michael Toohey died aged 18 after an incident at Mobiles Junction and Internet Café in Liverpool city centre -Credit:Liverpool Echo

Meanwhile Anthony Williams and his friend Steven McInerney arrived on pedal bikes while Michael Williams also pulled up on London Road in a blue Ford Tourneo. The group charged into the shop after Keiron Williams. Teenager Mr Toohey ran into the back of the shop and jumped over the counter, "scared, terrified and shaking" in his attempts to escape.

However, he was followed by the four grown men who quickly pinned him into the small, confined space. In a "swift, but brutal, ferocious and sustained attack" he was punched to the ground and beaten to death by the mob. Desperate cries of "help me, save me, save me" came from Mr Toohey, while leader Keiron Williams roared "I'm going to stab you, I will kill you and I will not let you go from here. I will tell you who's the gangster here".

Mr Toohey suffered horrific injuries in the assault. He was taken to the nearby Royal Liverpool Hospital with his injuries but died a short time later. A pathologist found multiple bruises to the head and neck caused by multiple blows, some with patterning consistent of footwear, a ruled the medical cause of death was blunt force trauma.

London Road became the centre of a high-profile murder investigation, with a large area of the road cordoned off for a number of days. Three days after his death, dozens of his friends and family gathered on London Road to remember the dad-to-be. Hundreds of balloons were released into the sky, and tributes were left for the "beautiful, well-mannered, placid young man". Ms Draper said he had made her the "happiest girl alive".

Balloons are released by friends and family of Michael Toohey at the scene of his murder on London Road
Balloons are released by friends and family of Michael Toohey at the scene of his murder on London Road -Credit:Liverpool Echo

Sources close to the ECHO said Mr Toohey was attacked by a group of up to eight men. The ECHO also heard how a weapon is thought to have been used in the attack. In the following months the police made a series of arrests in the Everton, Walton and Kirkby areas of Merseyside.

In August 2022, McInerney became the ninth man charged with the murder of Mr Toohey, along with the Williams brothers and the teenager who phoned in the attack. When police and forensic investigators got to work it became clear the killers had left behind a host of evidence which would ultimately prove their downfall inside the courts.

Jonathan Stewart, forensic operations manager at Merseyside Police, told the ECHO his team spent hours analysing finger, palm and footprints to pin-point who was where when the fatal blows were landed. He said: "By highlighting the position of the fingerprints in the area where the incident took place we could eliminate others who were at the scene that day, we could pinpoint it down to the people who were truly responsible for the brutal murder of Michael."

Mr Stewart and his team were also able to show, by the position palm prints had been left on the counter top inside the shop, that some of the killers had propelled themselves over the counter to get to the helpless teenager. In even more harrowing evidence, fingerprints on a door frame around where Michael's body was found also indicated how the killers had steadied themselves to deliver kicks and stamps on the teenager.

A huge boost also came when a wireless AirPod earphone was found in the shop, with a single black hair wrapped around it. That hair unequivocally placed Anthony Williams, not only at the scene, but right in the heart of the attack. A trial at Liverpool Crown Court before Honour Judge David Aubrey KC heard that the murder came against the backdrop of a feud between groups of drug dealers.

Detectives said they were unsure of the precise details of what caused the tensions, but believed Mr Toohey was "on the peripheries" of what was brewing. Witnesses in court said Mr Toohey had previously sold drugs for a man called "Gerry" who had a long-standing feud with Keiron Williams and his associates based around the Langsdale estate in Everton. However, the police were unable to identify the mysterious Gerry and were unsure whether he is an individual or even a reference to a "drugs line" or graft.

The jury were told Mr Toohey had stopped selling drugs after the police were sent to take him home when he was reporting missing, and because he learned he was going to become a dad. The Williams brothers tried to cowardly claim they rushed to the scene because they were told Mr Toohey had threatened the 14-year-old look out with a knife.

While Mr Toohey had been in possession of two knives when he was found fatally injured, CCTV and witness evidence revealed the claim was nonsense and he had not produced the knife before the attack. Judge Aubrey said he was satisfied "this was no rescue mission" and said the gang intended for the 18-year-old to be "taught a lesson".

The court did hear that Mr Toohey had been chased by Keiron Williams before. Judge Aubrey said: "I am satisfied that Michael Toohey was targeted, and whilst it cannot be said that there was necessarily any significant planning, or premeditation, on the particular day, I am satisfied that he had been chased before and you, Keiron Williams, had instructed others to be 'on the lookout' for him and once located, your team would move into action, as you did so, by all of you quickly making your way to where Michael Toohey was.

"This was a group attack on a lone teenager who was targeted, then chased in a public place into a shop from where he could not escape. He was a frightened young man; he was just 18 years of age. Regrettably, and which is far too prevalent and a real issue for society, he carried two knives for his own protection. However, as I have already stated. I am satisfied on the evidence he did not produce them and at the time posed no threat to you."

Steven McInerney, left, and Michael Williams, right, who have been jailed for life over the murder of Michael Toohey
Anthony Williams, left, and Keiron Williams, right, jailed for life over the murder of Michael Toohey

The Williams brothers, McInerney and the teenage boy were found guilty by the jury. Four other men, all from Kirkby, were charged but found not guilty after trial. Judge Aubrey passed the following sentences:

  • Keiron Williams, of no fixed abode, was sentenced to life with a minimum of 18 years in prison

  • Anthony Williams of Hillbrook Drive, Walton, was sentenced to life with a minimum of 18 years in prison

  • Michael Williams of Carlake Grove, Walton, was sentenced to life with a minimum of 18 years in prison

  • Steven McInerney, of no fixed abode, was sentenced to life with a minimum of 18 years in prison

  • The then 14-year-old boy was sentenced to life in detention with a minimum term of eight years in prison

Detective Chief Inspector Stephen McGrath, who led the investigation, said after the sentencing: "Michael’s death illustrates the devastation that acts of violence have not just on the victim, but families, friends, those who witnessed it including people who work in the emergency services, and the wider community. Those involved in serious and organised crime need to understand they are masters of their own destiny. The choices they make can change lives and they must accept responsibility for their actions."

Senior Crown Prosecutor Rachael Barber, of Crown Prosecution Service Mersey Cheshire’s Complex Casework Unit, added: "Michael Toohey was targeted and killed in an attack that was carried out in daylight, in a public area and without any concern that people going about their daily business might see what was happening. It is clear that Kieron, Anthony and Michael Williams were at the forefront of events. The 14-year-old ‘called in’ the gang and told the Williams brothers where Michael Toohey was.

"These men all played their part in the attack, arriving 'mob handed' to assist each other. They went into the premises knowing full well there was going to be violence, knowing full well that the target was Michael Toohey and knowing full well that he had been cornered in the shop. These four men viciously attacked Michael Toohey. He never had a chance to escape once cornered. Our thoughts at this time are with the family of Michael Toohey."

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