A gangland thug was today found guilty of murdering an innocent beautician after he opened fire on a packed beer garden on Christmas Eve – as CCTV showed her laughing and hugging friends moments before she was shot dead.
Elle Edwards, 26, was hit twice in the head after balaclava-clad Connor Chapman, 22, blasted a crowd outside The Lighthouse pub in Wallasey, Wirral, using a Skorpion sub-machine gun.
There were shouts of ‘yes’ from Ms Edwards’ family as Chapman was found guilty by the jury of seven women and five men following three hours of deliberations.
Tragically, Miss Edwards died after choosing to step outside for a cigarette just before midnight with five other men – two of whom, Kieran Salkeld and Jake Duffy, were Chapman’s ‘intended targets’, said prosecutor Nigel Power, K.C.
Drug dealer and father of two Chapman – who faces a mandatory life sentence spanning decades – had been loitering outside the pub and waiting for the pair for nearly three hours.
Elle Edwards, 26, was shot dead while enjoying drinks with friends at a pub on Merseyside. She is seen laughing with friends moments before
The moment balaclava-clad Connor Chapman, 22, blasted a crowd outside The Lighthouse pub, Wallasey, Wirral
Miss Edwards, 26, was shot dead outside a pub on Christmas Eve in Wallasey Village, Wirral
Ms Edwards’ father, Tim, celebrates outside court after Chapman was found guilty this afternoon
The judge, Mr Justice Goose condemned the ‘shocking violence’ in the case as he adjourned sentencing until tomorrow.
In his closing speech on Tuesday, Mr Power told the jury: ‘This is a trial that not just you 12 but many, many people will never forget. It involves human tragedy in its purest and most appalling sense.
‘Gun crime often includes criminals shooting at each other, there’s no doubt that this is such an event, but of course here a young, beautiful, unconnected, innocent life was brutally ended as a direct result of the then ongoing, but for now at least paused, gun feud between the Ford estate on Wirral on the one hand and the Woodchurch estate on the other hand.’
Leaving court surrounded by Elle’s siblings, other relatives and supporters, her father Tim Edwards punched the air and called out ‘we’ve got justice for Elle’.
Mr Edwards said of his daughter’s killer: ‘I hope he rots in hell’.
Also referring to accomplice Thomas Waring – convicted today of possessing an offensive weapon and assisting an offender – he said: ‘I hope those two never see another Christmas again in their lives.’
Mr Edwards added: ‘We’ve got the result we wanted, justice for Elle. Those two individuals in there decided to drag it out for weeks, put all these people (Elle’s family) through that (the trial).
‘I’ve had my eyes on him (Chapman) for three weeks and he’s not looked at me once. He’s just a coward, that’s exactly what he is. I couldn’t care less about him. Our lives will never be the same.
‘It just means he’s off the streets, someone else is not going to suffer at the hands of him.
‘Unfortunately Elle was his last victim but thankfully she will be the last person he does anything to and he can go fade away.
‘We’ve got justice and we can start going forward then.’
Mr Edwards said the impact of attending Chapman’s trial, during which he and his family had to sit through harrowing CCTV footage showing the moment Elle was shot, was yet to be seen.
Despite his attempts to look the defendant in the eye as he sat in the dock, Mr Edwards said Chapman, who the court heard had been in and out of custody for many years, had avoided eye contact with him.
He said: ‘He’s a scumbag, isn’t he? An absolute scumbag. No remorse, not one ounce, not one sign of regret for what he’s done. If anything, arrogant to actually believe he can pull the wool over people’s eyes and get away with it.’
Connor Chapman, 23, opened fire with a Skorpion sub-machine gun outside the Lighthouse
Tim Edwards, father of Elle Edwards, speaks to the media outside Liverpool Crown Court
Tragically, Miss Edwards died after chose to step outside for a cigarette just before midnight
The jury in Chapman’s trial heard the shooting, carried out with a Skorpion sub-machine gun, was the culmination of a feud between criminals on the Woodchurch estate, where Chapman lived, and the nearby Beechwood estate.
For Mr Edwards, news of the feud did not come as a surprise.
He said: ‘Feuds have happened forever but it’s always been, in the past I suppose, dealt with by fist fights or groups going at each other in a pub or whatever, but now it’s come to the point where they’re shooting each other.
‘It’s not really a surprise but it’s surprising the manner that it’s resulted in the death of my daughter who had nothing to do with any of it and she’s in a pub on Christmas Eve doing what any young girl should be doing, having a drink, having a good time, waiting to go and spend her Christmas with her family and some scumbag walks in and thinks he can open fire on a pub on Christmas Eve.
‘I can’t get my head around where that thought process comes from.’
Following the trial, Mr Edwards hopes for a ‘new future’ in which Ms Edwards can leave a positive legacy.
He said: ‘She was a caring person, she would give more of her time to other people than she did to herself. If she can be remembered for that and for her warmth and her young 26-year-old happy-go-lucky life that she was living.’
Work is under way to set up a foundation in her name which can help others.
‘I’m going to focus more on it and hopefully come up with an end goal of what we’re going to try and achieve in Elle’s name,’ he said.
‘We’ll figure that out soon enough, she’ll tell us which way to go with it.’
Thomas Waring (pictured) also faces a lengthy term after he was found guilty of possessing an offensive weapon and assisting an offender
An emotional Mr Edwards described his daughter’s killer today as ‘an absolute scumbag’
Flowers and tribute messages were left outside the Lighthouse following the shooting on Christmas Eve
Elle’s father, Tim Edwards, holds his head in his hands following the guilty verdict at Liverpool Crown Court this afternoon
The trial of Chapman and accomplice, Thomas Waring, took place over just under three weeks at Liverpool Crown Court.
CCTV footage from last December 24 was played to jurors showing the gunman, identified as Chapman by Mr Power, creeping up then running out from around a corner outside The Lighthouse brandishing the weapon.
Shots could be heard and a man fell to the floor followed by Miss Edwards. The four other men were also injured.
Opening the case last month, Mr Power said: ‘Elle Edwards was with her friends for what was supposed to be an enjoyable night out.
‘(Chapman’s) intended targets were Jake Duffy and Kieran Salkeld. Although they were injured, Elle Edwards, a wholly innocent bystander, was killed by two bullets which entered the back and left side of her head.’
‘The gunman was using a Skorpion sub-machine gun, a Czech firearm designed for the security services and army’.
Mr Power said the fatal shooting was ‘the culmination of an ongoing feud involving people from the Wirral’s Woodchurch and Ford estates’.
The court heard Duffy, 22, and Salkeld, 28, had carried out a ‘vicious attack’ on another man, Sam Searson, the previous day.
There were also two shootings involving a Glock pistol, while jurors heard Chapman was subject of gangland injunctions restricting his movements.
The court heard Chapman – who had been ‘casing’ The Lighthouse for three hours – fled in a stolen Mercedes A Class car, driving to the home of his ‘friend’, Thomas Waring, then 20.
Chapman remained there for four hours before taking a taxi back to his home on the Woodchurch estate, Birkenhead, it was claimed.
The Mercedes remained parked near Waring’s home in Barnston, Wirral, until December 31, when it was driven to an isolated site in Frodsham, Cheshire, and burned out, jurors were told.
The court heard the car allegedly used by Chapman – stolen from Chorley, Lancashire, last September – contained a SIM card allowing its movements to be tracked.
A file photo of a Skorpion sub-machine gun, similar to that used in the Christmas Eve shooting
The Mercedes A Class car used in the Christmas Eve shooting of Elle Edwards after it was found burnt out in Frodsham, Cheshire, on New Year’s Day
These ‘correlated’ with the location of a phone owned by Chapman between September and December 25, Mr Power said.
The Mercedes had been parked close to Chapman’s home before being driven to the Lighthouse pub.
A CCTV camera showed a figure ‘appearing to duck’ as he headed from Chapman’s home towards the vehicle to make the short journey.
‘Who was it who came out of Connor Chapman’s house, got into the stolen car which Connor Chapman had been driving for three months and drove it to the scene of the murder?’ Mr Power asked.
Before the Mercedes set off at 8.45pm, the court heard Chapman had received a ‘flurry of calls’ to his mobile phone.
He left his phone at home before driving from Woodchurch towards Wallasey, the court was told.
The car was then seen in ‘a variety of positions’ around The Lighthouse, moving to a space with plenty of room for a quick getaway, Mr Power said.
Telephone data from days later also put Chapman and Waring in the area where the car was burnt out on December 31, Mr Power said.
DNA partially-matching Chapman’s was found on a bullet casing at the scene of the shooting but the Skorpion has never been recovered, he added.
The court heard one of Chapman’s friends booked him on a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander – but the alleged killer later cancelled the booking after realising police were looking for him.
Instead, he and his girlfriend stopped using their main phones and booked a ‘prosecco and petals’ romantic stay in Wales, where he was arrested days later, Mr Power said.
Tim Edwards, father of Elle Edwards, with members of his family, including his mum (left), outside Liverpool Crown Court
Chapman, wearing his hair tied back in a ‘man bun’, was convicted of murdering Miss Edwards, attempting to murder Duffy and Salkeld, and wounding with intent against Harry Loughran, Nicholas Speed and Liam Carr – the other men shot and injured.
He was also convicted of possessing a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.
Waring also faces a lengthy term after he was found guilty of possessing an offensive weapon and assisting an offender.
Both denied all charges.
Senior investigating officer in the case, Detective Superintendent Paul Grounds, described Chapman as a ‘dangerous and ruthless individual’.
He said: ‘Connor Chapman knew exactly what he was doing when he left his home address on December 24, getting in a stolen car in possession of a Skorpion machine pistol.
‘He drove to the Lighthouse pub where he spent a number of hours there before finding a car parking space that gave him a real clear view of who was outside.
‘He then left his car with no regard for anybody else, intent on firing that gun at his intended targets, Kieran Salkeld and Jake Duffy, with not a care of what would happen to anybody else who was stood outside of the pub.’