Thomas Cashman was ‘feared enforcer’ for crime group
The drug dealer who murdered schoolgirl Olivia Pratt-Korbel had spent years cultivating the appearance of a successful, generous middle-class family man, with a taste for expensive cars and foreign holidays.
Thomas Cashman lived on a modern housing estate, his girlfriend ran a nearby beauty salon, and neighbours often saw him walking his dog and heard him playing with his daughter in their garden.
But in reality, it was a facade. The 34-year-old father of two was in fact a feared enforcer for an organised crime group who had been building a reputation on Merseyside as a “man with the gun”.
It can now be revealed that at the time of Olivia’s murder, Cashman was also suspected of involvement in a shooting in broad daylight near a children’s playground.
Just a fortnight before Olivia's killing, Cashman is believed to have carried out an unsuccessful drive-by attack at Ackers Hall Park, just yards away from Olivia’s home.
On that occasion, as on the night of the schoolgirl’s murder, he was trying to kill a rival gang member, Joseph Nee.
Bullet casings recovered from the scene of the incident on August 8, matched some of those used by Cashman on the night Olivia was shot dead.
Nobody was injured in the shooting and Cashman remained at large and was able to make another attempt on Nee’s life on August 22, with tragic consequences.
Jurors at Manchester Crown Court took just nine hours to find Cashman guilty of recklessly gunning down the nine-year-old inside her own home with a 0.38 calibre revolver when his bungled hit on Nee went wrong.
After the verdict was announced, Cashman wept and shook his head while members of his family stormed out of court shouting and swearing.
During the trial, Cashman had tried to paint himself as a harmless, local cannabis dealer who didn’t have any underworld enemies.
He claimed he was friends with Nee, would give his last thousand pounds to a friend in need, and purchased expensive gifts, such as cars for family members.
He became emotional watching Olivia’s mum, Cheryl, being interviewed by police and had to be handed a tissue by court staff.
When he spoke about his children, he also became tearful and pleaded with jurors “I’m a Dad, not a killer”.
Cashman lived with his girlfriend Kayleanne Sweeney and their two children less than a mile away from where Olivia was killed.
His partner had recently established a new beauty salon business in the area, but dissolved it just weeks after the shooting. Cashman himself is listed on companies house as owning a local dessert parlour until weeks before the attack.
Ms Sweeney attended court every day, often dressed in glamorous bright clothing, and wearing dark sunglasses.
She sat in silence throughout listening to her partner repeatedly deny killing a young girl of a similar age to her own children.
One local, who did not wish to be named but knew Olivia’s family well, said: “[Cashman] was always off on his ‘holidays’.
“It’s all down to money and he was a bit greedy with money.”
Away from his seemingly peaceful family life, Cashman had a terrifying reputation for carrying a firearm and being unafraid to pull the trigger.
An underworld source who spoke to The Telegraph said he was known for being ambitious, and violent.
He said: “When I met him, which was 2018, He was just a skinny little rat with a firearm. He can't fight with his hands but he could use a gun and he was willing to use a gun anywhere on anyone."
The source said Cashman had made his money from cannabis “grow houses” on the outskirts of the city, where criminal gangs harvest huge quantities of drugs.
He explained: “He’s attached to this organised crime group that puts ‘grows’ up and they're not little grows. You can get £60,000 each time a crop is ready.
“His comfortable life now comes on the back of intimidation and the guns used.
“Basically his main line of work was being an enforcer alongside people doing cannabis grows. And every time these cannabis grows got robbed he would be recruited by the people that were growing them to do the damage.”
The hit was allegedly ordered on Nee by an organised crime group after a cannabis farm they operated was robbed.
Cashman boasted in court of earning up to £250,000 a year selling cannabis and said he had a reputation for driving “high powered sports cars” around the streets of Dovecot.
Detective Superintendent Mark Baker, senior investigating officer, described the revelations about Cashman’s drug dealing and affluent lifestyle as "disgusting”.
He added: “He was earning up to a quarter of a million pounds. He's not paying any tax on that. He's living in a big detached house, he has properties linked to him all across the North West.”
While neighbours of the family described Cashman as having an outward appearance of respectability, they admitted they were not clear what he did for a living.
After his arrest, one neighbour claimed a member of his gang came to their house posing as a delivery driver and questioned them as to whether anyone had given any information to police.
They said: “He was asking so many questions. I think he was scoping the street out. He said it would have been hard for Cashman to be caught because he is a secretive guy and wouldn’t give anything away.”
The jury at Cashman’s trial heard how Olivia ran downstairs when she heard gunshots ringing out in the street, telling her mother: “I’m scared mummy. I’m scared.”
Pursued by Cashman, Nee crashed through the Korbel front door when Cheryl opened it to investigate what was going on.
He continued to fire at Nee and as Cheryl desperately tried to close the door a bullet passed through her hand and struck Olivia in the chest.
She was rushed to hospital by police officers but was pronounced dead a short time later.
Merseyside Police were initially met with a wall of silence but the breakthrough came when a woman in an on/off relationship with Cashman came forward with crucial evidence.
She told detectives that shortly after the murder Cashman turned up at her home demanding a change of clothes.
Crucially she also overheard him on the phone saying: "I've done Joey", believed to be a reference to the shooting of Nee.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is now believed to have been moved out of Liverpool under a witness protection scheme.
Cashman told the court she was a "woman scorned" and accused her of lying because she wanted to "ruin" his life.
During the trial Cashman attempted to claim he and Nee were friends and he had no reason to harm him.
While admitting he was a high-level cannabis dealer, he claimed at the time of the murder he had been at a friend’s house counting his drug profits and “smoking a spliff”.
But the jury rejected his lies and found Cashman guilty of the murder of Olivia, the attempted murder of Nee, wounding with intent of Ms Korbel, and two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
In his closing speech, prosecutor David McLachlan KC, told jurors:" Thomas Cashman must think that you were born yesterday. Fortunately you were not. You bring into this court the vital commodity of common sense and you know better than anyone else when someone is trying to pull then wool over your eyes.”
He added: "The straightforward explanation is not that Thomas Cashman is the unluckiest man in the world, or that he is the victim of a woman scorned who was trying to stitch him up for murder, but that he is the gunman who shot Olivia Pratt-Korbel. But he is not prepared to own it."
Cashman will be sentenced on Monday, when Olivia’s family are expected to deliver emotional victim impact statements.
Serena Kennedy, the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, described Cashman as “despicable” and a “coward” and welcomed the verdict.
She said the investigation was not over, adding: “We are still hunting down those people who enabled that murder to take place - who supplied the gun, where the gun is - and we will carry on until we identify those people responsible."
DSI Baker, the senior investigating officer, praised the key witness saying she had demonstrated incredible bravery in coming forward.
He said: “She has stood up for what is right... justice. Her evidence was powerful and emotional and most importantly she spoke the truth.”
He went on: "In his police interviews Cashman showed no remorse for his actions. He has deprived a nine-year-old girl of her future, and her family of the pride they would have had in watching her grow up.
"When he found out that he had shot an innocent young girl, he should have had the courage to stand up and come forward. Instead, he chose to lay low, despite being a dad himself.”