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Revealed: the Burscough link to gruesome murder of Liverpool dad Joseph McKeever

Police effectively uncovered a huge drugs haul by chance

Revealed: the Burscough link to gruesome murder of Liverpool dad Joseph McKeever

A man who was tortured and murdered may have been spared had his killer uncovered a huge drugs haul in a Burscough warehouse.

Skunk cannabis worth between £1.5m and £2.3m was uncovered in a unit at the Swordfish Business Park on August 4 - but its link to the murder of Liverpool man Joseph McKeever can only now be revealed.

Jamie Grimes went to the site named by the dad-of-one after he was tortured over the whereabouts of a missing £130,000 cannabis load.

But the killer returned empty-handed after searching the estate and the brutal attack on the 54-year-old continued until his death.

Weeks later, Merseyside Police raided the same address and discovered 155kg of skunk cannabis.

During the murder trial, Liverpool Crown Court heard how detectives discovered that the unit named by Mr McKeever was linked to both him and his associate, James Doyle.

Now, it can be revealed officers raided it during the third week of their murder inquiry - effectively discovering the huge shipment by chance. The drugs were being unloaded as police struck, leading to three men caught carrying out the work being jailed in a sentencing hearing this month.

Because of reporting restrictions it is only now, after jurors found Grimes guilty of murder and two others guilty of manslaughter last week, that details of the case can be reported.

Arthur Gibson, prosecuting at the court on February 1, explained officers attended a unit at Swordfish just after 10am on August 4. Finding the doors locked, the police banged on the front door until they heard someone inside.

 

Mr Gibson said: “The door was unlocked by Antony Hill. He was somewhat out of breath. He said he didn’t hear the knocking. On entry police found John Hill and Michael Peremans. They were sitting on a couch. John Hill, too, was somewhat out of breath.

“Officers conducted a search of the premises, other officers spoke to the defendants, They were a bit reluctant in identifying themselves. Mr Peremans gave a false name and date of birth.

“What the police found was as follows: upstairs a large number of packets of skunk cannabis either in, or adjacent too, cardboard boxes. Downstairs in the unit, crates on pallets within which were a number of solar panels. In each solar panel were 16 vacuum packed bags.”

Mr Gibson added: “The defendants were labourers, [employed] to take out the packets of cannabis from the solar panels and put them upstairs ready, no doubt, for onward supply.”

Each of the defendants admitted being concerned in the supply of Class B drugs but initially made no admissions in interview - though Antony Hill told officers: “I was only doing this to earn extra cash for my holidays. I was supposed to be going to Tenerife next week with my bird. I don’t suppose that will be happening.”

While the murder investigation that led to the cannabis discovery was not mentioned directly during the hearing, references to “more serious matters” in the background were made.

Judge Robert Warnock accepted that the defendants had no links to the murder, with their roles deemed to be those of “foot soldiers” and “labourers” in the cannabis conspiracy found in the Burscough raid.

Philip Astbury, defending Peremans for his role, said the 27-year-old had “properly expressed remorse for his involvement”.

Jason Smith, defending John Hill, said the 43-year-old had turned his life around after a burglary conviction in 2009 but was vulnerable and could easily be exploited by others.

He added: “He became involved in something he knows he shouldn’t have been involved in.”

Mr Smith also blasted the Crown Prosecution Service for what he described as a “shambolic” process.

While he called on the “matters in the background” to be ignored in relation to the defendants, he said they were left fearing they could be wrongly “connected” to them for some time.

 

Rachel Oakdene, defending Antony Hill, 31, said he too had expressed regret and that he “vows to leave prison, in his words, as a better person”.

Judge Warnock said: “You would have known from the outset the extent of the criminality which you were involved in... you were the labourers in this, involved in what was undoubtedly an exceptionally serious enterprise.”

He jailed Peremans, formerly of Prescot but whose address was given as HMP Liverpool, for three years and two months; John Hill, of Three Butt Lane in West Derby, for three years and Antony Hill, also of Three Butt Lane, for two years and nine months.

Judge Warnock added he had taken the “circumstances of the arrest and the period of time taken to get to court” into account when deciding the punishments.

Last week Grimes, 22, of Breckside Park in Anfield, was jailed for life with a minimum of 27 years for Mr McKeever’s murder.

Karl Kelly, 32, of Snaefell Avenue in Old Swan, and Darren Colecozy, 23, of no fixed address but from Wavertree, were both convicted of manslaughter and jailed for 22 years each. Dylan Owen, 23, of Paul Mc­Cartney Way in Kensington, who was cleared of any part in Mr McKeever’s death but admitted destroying his car and Grimes’s van, was jailed for six years.

The drugs haul found in Burscough was not the delivery that formed the backdrop to Mr McKeever’s horrific murder.

That 145kg cannabis importation, hidden in fruit and vegetables being delivered from Spain, was seized in southern England three days before he was killed. And it is not known when the separate 155kg cannabis cargo was delivered to Burscough.

Yet the address was revealed by Mr McKeever during the course of his torture and had the shipment been at the unit when Grimes then visited – and had he found it – the attack may have been halted before it proved fatal.

murder Revealed: the Burscough link to gruesome of Liverpool dad Joseph McKeever

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