Thomas Cashman guilty of murdering Olivia Pratt-Korbel, nine, at her Liverpool home

·6-min read
<span>Photograph: PA</span>
Photograph: PA

A “ruthless” drug dealer is facing life in prison after being found guilty of murdering nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in a shooting that repulsed Britain.

Thomas Cashman, 34, was convicted of killing the “unique, chatty” little girl who had been getting ready to go to bed when he burst into her family home in Liverpool last August.

Olivia was standing behind her mother when Cashman opened fire while chasing another local criminal, Joseph Nee, who had sought refuge inside after seeing that the door was open. She was fatally struck by a single bullet that had gone through the door and the hand of her screaming mother, Cheryl Korbel.

Korbel, who attended every day of the near four-week trial, said she was “ecstatic” at the guilty verdict, and held aloft a pink teddy bear as she left Manchester crown court.

Cashman sobbed in the dock as he was also found guilty of attempting to murder Nee, wounding Korbel with intent by shooting her through the hand, and two counts of possessing firearms. The jury had deliberated for around nine hours.

He faces life imprisonment with a minimum term of 30 years when he is sentenced on Monday for what police described on Thursday as an “abhorrent” crime that shocked the country.

Maria Corr, of CPS Mersey-Cheshire’s complex casework unit, described Cashman as a “ruthless criminal” and said it had been “a truly tragic case and one of the most complex I have had to deal with in my 32 years with the Crown Prosecution Service”.

She added: “At the heart of it is a nine-year-old girl who has lost her life. Olivia Pratt-Korbel was in her own home, with her family, where she should have been safe. By contrast, Thomas Cashman is a ruthless criminal who recklessly pursued another man, with no consideration of the consequences.”

Thomas Cashman
Thomas Cashman sobbed in the dock after the verdict. Photograph: Merseyside Police/PA

There were gasps and cries in the packed courtroom as the jury foreman replied “guilty” when asked for the verdict.

Cashman, who had described himself as “a dad, not a killer”, cradled his head in his hands and wept as the verdicts were returned, wiping his eyes with his hand.

His family shouted and swore as they left the courtroom. One woman who identified herself as Cashman’s sister angrily berated police officers, who she said were “stitching him up”. The woman, surrounded by police, continued: “All you’ve got on Tommy is driving round his own area selling weed and that’s all you’ve got … Youse are stitching him up.”

During the trial, jurors were told how Cashman was a cannabis dealer in Dovecot, where Olivia lived with her family, making more than £150,000 a year.

In court, he said he was not the masked man pictured on CCTV chasing Nee down the street and was at a friend’s house at the time of the murder. But the jury were convinced he was guilty.

The prosecution case relied heavily on the evidence of a key witness with whom Cashman had been having a casual relationship.

The woman, who gave evidence over three combative days in court, said the killer came to her house immediately after the shooting and said words to the effect of “I’ve done Joey”.

The witness, whose identity cannot be revealed, has left Liverpool after receiving some of the most serious threats Merseyside police said they had ever seen.

It can now be reported that the trial was due to take place in the city but had to be moved to Manchester because Cashman felt he would not get a fair hearing in Liverpool, where tensions ran high after the killing.

It can also be disclosed that another man, Paul Russell, has admitted assisting an offender by helping Olivia’s killer drive away from a house and disposing of his clothing. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The Korbel family were at home on Kingsheath Avenue when they heard gunshots on the street outside. Opening the door to see what was happening, Korbel was confronted with Nee, who ran towards their house, seeing the door was ajar.

As Korbel went back inside and tried in vain to shut the door, she was shot in the hand by the same bullet that hit Olivia, who was standing behind her.

It was a warm night and Olivia, a year 4 pupil at St Margaret Mary’s Catholic junior school, had been struggling to get to sleep, saying she was too hot. She was at the bottom of the stairs when the commotion happened, and witnesses heard her say “Mummy, I’m scared”.

Korbel tried to shield her daughter as Nee burst through her front door followed by Cashman. Nee was shot in the leg and torso but survived.

Korbel said: “The door flew open, I was huddled over the baby [Olivia] because I couldn’t lift her by myself because of my arm.” She added: “There was blood everywhere. I knew it wasn’t right. I lifted her top and that’s when I knew she’d been shot in the chest.

The trial heard from several witnesses who told police about “the worst screaming I’ve ever heard in my life” after the shooting.

A neighbour, Adele Maher, described seeing from her bedroom window a man dressed in “all black from head to toe” chasing another man.

“He was running with an arm stretched out in front of him,” she told police. “Seconds later I heard another two loud noises followed by the worst screaming I’ve ever heard in my life. I think it was women screaming, hysterical, out of control. It threw me into an instant panic because I knew then something bad had happened.”

She added: “I could hear Chloe, my neighbour Cheryl’s daughter, on the phone to someone. She sounded distraught. She was saying: ‘Where are they? Where are they? She’s dying.’ I realised then that something must have happened at Cheryl’s house.”

During the trial, Cashman claimed the shooter was not him and he was being framed by a former lover whose house he visited after carrying out the attack.

Under cross-examination, his voice cracked as he said: “I’m getting blamed for killing a child. I’ve got my own children. I’m not a killer, I’m a dad. I’m getting blamed for something I haven’t done.”

After the verdicts, a spokesperson for Rishi Sunak said: “The prime minister’s thoughts remain with the family and friends of Olivia during what must be an incredibly difficult time.”

Serena Kennedy, the chief constable of Merseyside police, said Olivia’s murder had taken a “devastating” toll on the girl’s family. She described Cashman as “despicable” and a “coward” for trying to hide his crimes.

She said: “I simply can’t imagine the pain that they’re going through every day, and I offer my sincere condolences to Olivia’s family. But I would also like to pay tribute and pass my thanks on to the SIO [senior investigating officer] Mark Baker and all of his team and the CPS for all the work that they’ve done over the past six months to make sure that we brought the person responsible for Olivia’s murder, Thomas Cashman, to justice.

“I know that will never bring Olivia back, but hopefully the family will get some small comfort in knowing the person that took their daughter away from them is now behind bars.”