Olivia Pratt-Korbel's mother cries as Thomas Cashman is convicted

Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s mother cries tears of relief and holds her teddy aloft as drug dealer is found guilty of her little girl’s murder – but shameless killers’ family insist it is a police stitch up as they point finger at mystery man

  • Cheryl Korbel held aloft a pink soft toy made in her daughter’s memory 

Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s mother cried tears of relief today as a drug dealing gangster was found guilty of her little girl’s murder. 

Cheryl Korbel held aloft a pink soft toy made in her daughter’s memory, having wept as Thomas Cashman, 34, was convicted of murder at Manchester Crown Court. 

After the verdicts were returned, Cashman’s family protested his innocence while the killer himself bowed his head and cried.

His partner, Kayleeanne Sweeney, put her head in her hands while one relative shouted ‘appeal it’. 

Outside court, Cashman’s family continued shouting and swearing as they fumed that they were ‘livid’ over the verdicts.

‘They’ve got DNA on the front door of the person Joey Nee says shot him,’ shouted a woman believed to be one of the murderer’s sisters. 

Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s mother Cheryl Korbel held aloft a pink soft toy made in her daughter’s memory, having wept as Thomas Cashman, 34, was convicted of murder

Miss Korbel – who still had a bullet wound on her hand – is still seen celebrating with friends and supporters outside court today

Olivia’s mother said today that she was ‘ecstatic’ at getting justice for her little girl 

Standing next to Cashman’s partner Kayleeane, she ranted: ‘They’re just stitching him up! There’s someone else’s DNA on that door.’

Giving the surname of Lee Hickman – with whom Nee told police he’d had a ‘little falling out’ – she added: ‘Go f****** charge him.’ 

Merseyside Police say they have eliminated the convicted armed robber of being the gunman through an alibi corroborated by CCTV.  

Terrifying footage released today shows Cashman chasing his intended victim Joseph Nee down Olivia’s street in Dovecot, Liverpool.

But as he towered over begging Nee at just before 10pm, his Glock-style handgun malfunctioned.

This sparked a disastrous chain of events that saw Nee flee, pursued by Cashman, who was armed with two guns.

His attempts to kill him ‘at all costs’ then went ‘horribly wrong’ when Olivia’s mother, Cheryl Korbel, opened her front door after hearing bangs.

As 36-year-old Nee tried to force his way into the house, Cashman opened fire which struck 46-year-old Mrs Korbel in the hand.

Thomas Cashman’s girlfriend, Kayleeanne Sweeney, leaving Manchester Crown Court after he was found guilty

Thomas Cashman’s family and friends swore and shouted as they left court today

After the verdicts were returned, Cashman’s family protested his innocence while the murderer himself bowed his head and cried

Olivia’s father, John Francis Pratt, is seen on the left outside court this afternoon 

The bullet travelled through her and hit Olivia in the chest just as she ran downstairs saying: ‘Mum, I’m scared.’ Armed police rushed the youngster to hospital but she was pronounced dead a short time later.

Today, Cashman was also found guilty of the attempted murder of Nee, as well wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm to Olivia’s mother. 

While Cashman now faces many decades behind bars, urgent questions remain over whether anyone else was involved in the botched execution.

His defence suggested he was being portrayed as a ‘hitman’ – and questioned why the jury was given no reason for him wanting to kill the convicted burglar, with whom he claimed to be friends.

While detectives have not ruled out Cashman being involved in a criminal gang himself, no evidence has been uncovered that anyone else ordered the attack on Nee.

However as police chiefs warn the spread of fearsome ‘battlefield’ weapons capable of discharging 15 bullets in less than a second mean Olivia not be the last innocent life claimed by callous drug gangs, some of the names given to detectives can now be revealed.

Interviewed after the shooting, Nee told police the gunman who tried to kill him ‘could have been anyone’ – but mentioned that he’d had a ‘little falling-out’ with convicted armed robber Lee Hickman.

In 2010, Hickman was jailed for 15 years for his part in a violent robbery in which £365,000 was snatched from a security van in Carlisle.

Thomas Cashman was today found guilty on all counts 

A bullet hole in the front door of OliviaPratt-Korbel’s family home, where the schoolgirl died inside

The murderer face down on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back 

In legal argument in the absence of the jury, Cashman’s barrister, John Cooper KC, sought to have intelligence evidence about an alleged ‘feud’ between the Hickman and Nee families put before them.

For their part, the prosecution said police had eliminated Hickman, now 36, and his three brothers as being the gunman – in Lee’s case by an alibi corroborated by CCTV.

Mr Cooper suggested this didn’t exclude the possibility that a member of the Hickman family was involved in the shooting.

However the trial judge, Mrs Justice Yip, said Nee’s account was ‘vague and speculative’, while bringing in intelligence evidence risked confusing the jury, and ruled it inadmissible.

Intriguingly the house Cashman was renting is owned by the fugitive alleged ‘kingpin’ in a £186million international cocaine and heroin smuggling ring, the Daily Mail can reveal.

Christopher Gibney was accused of organising a sophisticated smuggling ring which used an ‘inside man’ at a UPS parcel depot in North Wales to conceal up to 1,304kg of Class A drugs in packages, a court heard in 2021.

At the time, prosecutors said Gibney remained at large.

Nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel was killed during the botched hit job on a convicted dealer

Terrifying CCTV footage showed a gun-wielding Cashman (in blue) hunting his intended target, Joseph Nee (in red)

The footage was released by Merseyside Police following today’s verdict 

Police body cam video showed the moment Cashman was arrested 

However while police probing Olivia’s shooting looked into whether there was a connection between Gibney and Cashman, they do not currently believe it is relevant.

While they have not ruled out Cashman being involved in a criminal gang himself, no evidence has been uncovered that anyone else ordered the attack on Nee.

Detectives say the account given by Cashman to the key prosecution witness in whose home he tried to take refuge as Olivia was dying that someone was ‘coming for him’ and he wanted to get to them first is as near as they have to a motive.

Nee is understood to have been freed from prison on licence in 2020.

He was jailed for 45 months in 2018 over a string of burglaries which culminated in a 125mph police chase.

While locked up at HMP Kirkham in Lancashire he was pictured enjoying a sunny day topless with fellow inmates – leading to the prison being dubbed ‘Butlins with bars’.

It was the career criminal’s second lengthy prison stretch.

In 2009, he was jailed for six-and-a-half years for serving as a ‘foot soldier’ in a multimillion-pound drugs gang.

Under Armour trousers and T-shirts which Thomas Cashman changed into after the shooting and were found at his sister’s house

Cables from a missing CCTV recorder found by police at Thomas Cashman’s home address

Bullet casings found by police in Kingsheath Avenue after the death of Olivia Pratt-Korbel

Following Olivia’s death, Nee was recalled to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Merseyside Police have pledged to ‘hunt down’ those who supplied the guns used by Cashman – neither of which have been traced – and then hid them following the shooting.

Olivia was one of five shooting deaths in Merseyside last year, including council worker Ashley Dale who was killed in the back garden of her home less than 48 hours earlier.

On Christmas Eve, Elle Edwards was fatally injured when a gunman opened fire outside the Lighthouse pub in Wallasey.

Like Olivia, neither Miss Dale or Miss Edwards is believed to have been the gunman’s intended victim.

Central to the grim toll are Czech-manufactured Skorpion machine pistols capable of discharging 850 rounds a minute.

These fearsome weapons have been involved in eight shootings in the past two years in Merseyside alone – on three occasions with fatal consequences.

Bought legally in European countries, blank-firing or deactivated weapons can be smuggled across the Channel before being converted into firing live rounds in illicit back-street gun factories.

Olivia was fatally shot in the chest at her home in Dovecot, Liverpool, on August 22 last year 

Cheryl Korbel (centre), mother of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, with family members at Manchester Crown Court where the trial was being heard

Aerial view shows a forensic tent outside Olivia’s home on Kingsheath Avenue on August 25

More than 100 Merseyside criminals have been locked up for more than 1,000 years as a result of the hacking of the Encrochat messaging service in 2020.

But police chiefs in the city admit their success may have had a ‘destabilising’ effect by creating a ‘vacuum’ which led to renewed ‘fall-outs’.

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Kameen, who led the investigation to catch Olivia’s killer, said the shooting was just one of 49 ‘reckless’ firearm discharges in Merseyside over the course of 2022.

‘Any one of those could have resulted in another homicide,’ he said yesterday.

‘We had people firing at cars driving past, putting bullets through windows or people’s front doors – anyone could be behind.

‘That’s just the madness and complete lack of moral compass these people have we are dealing with.’

Bringing ‘battlefield military weaponry into communities’ inevitably risks deadly consequences for innocent people, Mr Kameen said.   

Father-of-two and drug dealer Thomas Cashman, 34, was convicted of Olivia’s murder today

Artist impression of Thomas Cashman giving evidence at Manchester Crown Court earlier

Police chiefs said disgust at Olivia’s death should prompt weekend revellers in cities far from Liverpool to wake up to the part they unwittingly played in the tragedy by using class A drugs.

‘Everyone involved in the chain is responsible,’ said Merseyside Assistant Chief Constable Chris Green.

‘If there wasn’t demand there wouldn’t be supply.’

After Olivia’s death became the third fatal shooting in Merseyside in the space of seven days, following those of Ms Dale and 22-year-old Sam Rimmer, Merseyside Police was awarded £350,000 by the Home Office for a pilot to tackle criminal gangs.

Called Clear, Hold, Build, the initiative is intended to help law-abiding communities stop a new gang moving in when the previous one is ‘obliterated’.

In its first three months, the programme led to 420 arrests, with 11 firearms and 90 vehicles seized. 

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