When 11-year-old Rhys Jones was shot and killed on 22nd August 2007, his hometown of Liverpool rallied around his family for support. Ten years later, and ITV are taking on the story that shook the nation to its core in four-part drama Little Boy Blue.
A keen footballer, Rhys was walking home from practice across a pub car park when he was hit by a stray bullet fired by a hooded local youth on a bike.
In an area of the city known for its violent gangs, it was believed the bullets were meant for a rival gang member, but one struck Rhys in the neck. His mum was quick to the scene and paramedics tried for an hour and half to resuscitate him, before he was sadly pronounced dead at a nearby children’s hospital.
After months of trials and investigations, 16-year-old Sean Mercer was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years for the murder of Rhys Jones.
Four-part drama Little Boy Blue will follow the story of Rhys’s parents and the Merseyside police in bringing his killer to justice, as well as the family’s battle to cope with the tragic loss of a child.
Producer Kwadjo Dajan reveals that whilst on location in Liverpool, locals were very concerned with whether or not the series met the approval of the family: ‘The first question everybody asked was “Are the parents involved? What do Melanie and Steve think about this?” That was really special to see and hear,’ he told local paper the Liverpool Echo.
‘Everyone remains very protective of the family and the people of Liverpool genuinely view them as extended members of their own extended families.’
The Jones’ have voiced their support of the production, saying previously in a statement: ‘We wanted to get involved in this drama because we thought it was important for people to understand what really happened.’
‘How close Rhys’s murderer came to escaping justice, and how in the end the simple courage shown by some of those involved in these events, and their refusal to be intimidated, led to the conviction of Sean Mercer and others involved in Rhys’s murder. The part Merseyside Police and especially Detective Superintendent Dave Kelly played in this cannot be overestimated.’
‘But beyond this we wanted to show the devastating effect the loss of our beloved son Rhys had on our family, and how the grieving process affected us long beyond the ‘closure’ of a guilty verdict.’
The actors cast in bringing sensitivity and accuracy to the drama have received high praise as well. This is England’s Stephen Graham will play Superintendent Dave ‘Ned’ Kelley, who led the investigation, whilst Sinead Keenan and Bryan O’Byrne will play Rhys’s heartbroken parents.
‘I was very fortunate to meet them. I wanted them to feel secure and to know we were approaching this work with respect. To ease their worries in some ways,’ said Bryan, of playing such a sensitive role.
‘It was important for them to understand we were not going to sensationalise anything and that we all wanted to do justice to their story.’
When asked how she found playing the role during an appearance on Good Morning Britain, Sinead added: ‘It’s not easy, I’d be lying if I said it was.
‘If this was just a story that was made up by Jeff Pope, our writer, you’d think, “God that’s horrific enough” but the fact that it’s real and something the family are living through day in and day out, it brings an awful lot of responsibility to bear.’
The first hour-long episode of Little Boy Blue airs at 9pm on Monday 24th April on ITV and continues every Monday night at 9pm for the next three weeks.