The family of Olivia Pratt-Korbel say they are "ecstatic" Thomas Cashman has been found guilty, after he fatally shot the nine-year-old in her Liverpool home last August.
Cashman, 34, was on trial in the Manchester Crown Court for three-and-a-half weeks, after he earlier pleaded not guilty to the murder of Olivia, the attempted murder of convicted drug dealer Joseph Nee, wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm to Olivia’s mother, and two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
During the trial, the court heard Olivia had been frightened out of bed and ran to her mother, after hearing a commotion outside their home in the Dovecot area of Liverpool, as Cashman fired shots at Nee, at around 10pm on 22 August last year.
Witnesses reported hearing the little girl scream out, "Mum, I’m scared," as she ran.
Olivia’s mother, 46-year-old Cheryl Korbel, opened her front door to find out what was going on – when Nee, bleeding and injured - saw the light from her doorway and ran towards the house, trying to barge in to escape from Cashman.
"In a panic” and screaming at Nee banging on the door, Cheryl tried to shut it on him, as Cashman pursued his target and fired again with a revolver. The bullet missed Nee, went through the front door, through Ms Korbel’s right hand and fatally hit Olivia - who was standing on the stairs behind her mother - in her chest.
In the Manchester Crown Court on Thursday, Olivia’s mother Cheryl Korbel, wearing a pink cardigan and holding a teddy bear, sat with her children Chloe and Ryan. There were gasps and tears from Olivia’s family as the verdicts were returned.
Cashman wiped tears from his eyes following the verdicts. His family, including partner Kayleeanne Sweeney, sat in a public gallery behind a glass partition. Ms Sweeney could be seen with her head in her hand while other members of the defendant’s family were in tears.
He turned back to his family and shook his head at one point. Some of his relatives left the courtroom shouting, swearing and protesting his innocence. His sister claimed others were responsible for Olivia’s murder, not her brother, as she was ushered out of the court building by police officers and court security.
Outside the courthouse, Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s mother Cheryl told reporters she was feeling “ecstatic”. Ms Korbel also raised a pink teddy bear into the air and shouted “yes!”
Following the conviction, senior crown prosecutor Maria Corr, of CPS Mersey Cheshire’s Complex Casework Unit, said this was a "truly tragic" case, one of the most complex she has had to deal with in her 32 years with the Crown Prosecution Service.
"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," she said. "By contrast, Thomas Cashman is a ruthless criminal who recklessly pursued another man, with no consideration of the consequences. He was intent on violence that night, arming himself with two loaded guns."
Merseyside police and crime commissioner Emily Spurrell said there was no justice that could bring Olivia back, and the last three weeks of the trial and Cashman’s refusal to admit his crimes must have "compounded their unthinkable suffering".
“Today’s guilty verdict will not bring their unique, chatty, beautiful little girl back and sadly it will not end their heartache, but at least they know he is off the streets and facing a life sentence for his cowardly and despicable actions," she said.
Ms Spurrell paid tribute to the force and thanked the community, adding: “This senseless murder devastated our city. Sadly, it showed there is still a contemptible minority, an underbelly of our society, who have no morals and no care for anyone but themselves and their own greed... It is vital that we unite to make it clear they will never be welcome in our proud, caring, compassionate region.”
In a ruling which could not be reported until the trial ended, it was revealed the court also heard Nee and his family "had their enemies", and this was not the first time he had been targeted in a shooting. There was a “background of hostility” between Nee’s family and another family, the Hickmans, and Nee had been shot at two weeks before the incident in which Olivia was killed.
The same self-loading pistol which was used by the gunman who killed Olivia was fired at Nee in the earlier incident on August 8, police said. The court heard that in interviews, Nee gave differing accounts, initially saying he did not think the Hickmans were responsible but later telling police he had a “little falling out” with Lee Hickman and speculating that they could have been involved.
The prosecution set out reasons why four members of the Hickman family could be eliminated from inquiries, including that two of them were in prison at the time. Another was in a pub making a phone call at the time of the shooting, according to CCTV and telephone evidence, the court heard.
There was insufficient evidence Cashman was involved in the shooting on August 8 but he had not been eliminated by police, the court heard.
Jurors earlier heard that Cashman, a father-of-two, said around the time of the shooting he had been at a friend’s house where he counted £10,000 in cash and smoked a spliff. During his evidence, he told the court: “I’m not a killer, I’m a dad.”
But a woman who had a fling with Cashman told the jury he came to her house after the shooting, where he changed his clothes and she heard him say he had “done Joey”. Cashman told the court she was a “woman scorned” and accused her of lying because she wanted to “ruin” his life.