Nine people have been convicted of murder after a Nottingham man was fatally stabbed in a case of mistaken identity.
Michael Anton O’Connor was attacked outside a property in Wilford Crescent West, The Meadows, shortly after 10.20pm on 10 November 2021.
The 31-year-old, from Alexandra Park, died at the Queen’s Medical Centre after police found him collapsed on the pavement.
A subsequent police investigation found the murder was the culmination of a drug war which had broken out between two rival organised crime groups – each vying for control of the local drugs market.
Michael was well-known and well-liked in the area and was tasked with calming tensions between the two gangs. However, his killers mistook him for their intended target, a Nottingham drugs kingpin, and it cost Michael his life.
In October 2022, eleven people went on trial at Nottingham Crown Court accused of his murder. Today (12 June 2023), nine of those defendants were found guilty of murder.
Benjamin Taylor, 24/06/1984 (38), of Monton Road, Eccles, Manchester. Sent a team of dealers from Manchester down to Nottingham to carry out the murder.
Leonard Ward, 20/07/1980 (42), of Marwood Road, Carlton. Head of Meadows-based organised crime gang (OCG) that ordered the killing.
Joseph Boscombe, 11/06/1982 (41), of Rostherne Avenue, Manchester. Part of the ‘hit team’ sent to carry out the murder.
Joshua Agboola, 27/01/1993 (30), of Leven Grove, Darwen, Blackburn. Part of the ‘hit team’ sent to carry out the murder.
Carla McGuire, 10/05/1970 (53), of Wilford Crescent West, The Meadows. Lives at property next to where Mr O’Connor was murdered. Accused of turning off CCTV at her property just before the attack was carried out. Linked to Meadows-based OCG that ordered the killing.
Michael Mingoes, 29/04/2002 (21), of Powell Street, Manchester. Part of the ‘hit team’ sent to carry out the murder – believed to have dealt the fatal blow.
Jerome Sheard, 04/04/1992 (31), of Wilford Crescent West, The Meadows. Leonard Ward’s right-hand man and son of Carla McGuire. Member of Meadows-based OCG that ordered the killing.
Paula Usherwood, 09/03/1984 (39), of Central Avenue, Beeston. Set up the ambush by meeting the intended target on the morning of the murder.
Michael McGuire, 15/10/1987 (35), of Wilford Crescent West, The Meadows. Son of Carla McGuire and living with her at property next to where murder took place.
Two further defendants also went on trial for other offences relating to the murder:
Kerry-Anne Shepherd, aged 35 (05/08/1987), of Plantagenet Street, St Ann's, denied assisting an offender but was today found guilty.
Gemma Fearon, aged 38 (08/08/1984), of Dean Bank Close, Bollington, Macclesfield, denied a charge of encourage/assist in the commission of an indictable only offence. She had been accused of driving the ‘hit team’ to and from the scene of the murder and was also found guilty by the jury.
Rebecca Bell, aged 38, of Loughrigg Close, The Meadows, and Curtis Sheard, 24, of Wilford Crescent, The Meadows, were both found not guilty of murder.
The guilty defendants will be sentenced next week.
Following today’s verdicts, Assistant Chief Constable Rob Griffin, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “Firstly, our thoughts are with Michael’s family who have had to endure such a tragic and traumatic event.
“As someone who was well-known and well-liked in The Meadows area, Michael was asked to act as a peacemaker between two feuding groups and it cost him his life.
“He was ambushed by a number of masked up men who were heavily armed with a gun, a sword, a knife, axe and hammer. Michael was unarmed and his killing was therefore cowardly in the extreme.
“Following his murder, those responsible went into self-preservation mode – hiding and removing items that could incriminate them, lying to detectives and trying to create the impression they were trying to assist as Michael lay on the ground dying.
“They fooled no-one and today’s verdicts are testament of the enormous amount of work that went into bringing Michael’s killers to justice.”
Detective Chief Inspector Rob Routledge, who led the investigation, also welcomed the verdicts. He said: “These nine defendants denied their involvement in this horrific crime. But a jury have heard the evidence gathered by the investigation team and found them guilty.
“Ahead of their sentencing, I would like to thank members of the jury who, for 29 weeks, listened to the evidence surrounding this brutal attack, and the witnesses who have supported this prosecution, particularly those who gave evidence during the trial.
“I would also like to thank our colleagues within the Crown Prosecution Service and prosecuting counsel for the manner in which the case has been prepared and delivered at trial.
“Lastly I must thank the dedicated team of officers and staff from across the region’s five police forces who worked round-the-clock on this investigation and who have shown great skill and professionalism throughout.
“I hope the manner in which this murder has been dealt with and today’s verdicts will reassure the public that the police service will act quickly and robustly to bring violent criminals to justice.”
T/Chief Inspector Karl Thomas, who led the City South neighbourhood policing team at the time of Michael’s murder, added: “Firstly my sincere heartfelt sympathy goes out to Michael’s family and I welcome today’s guilty verdicts.
“When these awful crimes happen within our community it not only hurts the immediate family who feel it most profoundly but it also impacts on other family members, friends and the wider community.
“Thankfully incidents of this type are very rare in Nottingham and I would like to reassure residents that we will continue to work hard, with the support of partner agencies and, importantly, the community to tackle and prevent knife crime from happening on our streets.”
Opening the trial last October, prosecutor Adrian Langdale KC said Michael had been the victim of a “brutal pre-planned ambush” and that he died from a stab wound to the heart when his killers mistook him for their intended target, a Nottingham drugs kingpin.
He said Michael had been sent to Wilford Crescent West by the kingpin, who had been invited there for talks to resolve the escalating war. Mr Langdale told the jury Michael went unarmed and was seemingly unaware that he was heading into a trap set for the kingpin.
Mr Langdale told the jury: “Instead of a meeting to calm tensions, a carefully planned and organised ambush awaited him at the hands of a number of heavily armed males, seemingly keen on settling the dispute once and for all and who didn’t care a jot whether it was the primary target they attacked or simply someone connected to him.”
Whilst evidence suggests Michael Mingoes plunged the knife into Michael’s heart during the ambush, Mr Langdale said the murder had been a “joint act” by numerous individuals.
“Each in turn may just as well have also had their hands on the handle of the knife,” Mr Langdale told the jury.
“It was intended to be a carefully planned, organised ‘hit’ by a drug-dealing organised crime group based in The Meadows.
“But instead of doing the dirty work entirely by themselves, they had concluded they had become outgunned by the rival gang and felt the need to bolster their strength by hiring in muscle from Manchester to carry out the attack.”
The court heard Leonard Ward and his right-hand man, Jerome Sheard, organised for Ward’s upstream supplier Benjamin Taylor to send a team of dealers down from Manchester to act as the ‘hit team’. This team included Joshua Agboola, Michael Mingoes and Joseph Boscombe, with Gemma Fearon tasked with driving them to and from the murder scene.
The killing took place outside the home address of Carla McGuire, 51, and her sons Michael McGuire, 34, and Curtis Sheard, 23 – also among the 11 defendants charged with Michael’s murder, which was arranged only hours before it took place.
The court heard Paula Usherwood had held a brief lunchtime meeting with the leader of the rival group at a pub in The Meadows, with CCTV showing her doing most of the talking. The court heard Usherwood used the meeting to give the impression she wanted to reduce tensions and issues between the two gangs – when her actual motive was to set up the rival leader so that he would be killed.
Mobile phone data reveals numerous phone calls took place on the same day involving Paula Usherwood, Michael McGuire, Jerome Sheard and Leonard Ward – all later charged with Michael’s murder.
On the afternoon of the murder, Joseph Boscombe, Michael Mingoes and Joshua Agboola travelled from Manchester to Nottingham by car. CCTV showed them stopping off at a shop in Stafford to buy clothing including a zip up black Nike top, which was identical to the one later found by police at the address of one of the suspects.
The trio continued to Wilford Crescent West – the scene of the murder – arriving at 4.42pm. CCTV showed them getting out of a Toyota Yaris carrying rucksacks and being greeted by Michael McGuire, who was wearing a stab vest, before going into a house.
On the same afternoon, Benjamin Taylor made the same journey from Manchester in a white Audi. The court heard Taylor met with Leonard Ward in the West Bridgford area so that he could receive payment for the murder later that day.
Meanwhile, CCTV captured Paula Usherwood and Michael McGuire coming and going from the area around Wilford Crescent West and the general Meadows area.
At 10.11pm, Paula Usherwood and the men who arrived earlier in the Toyota Yaris left the house in Wilford Crescent West and appeared to be armed. A minute later, the CCTV at the address was turned off and it is believed the stabbing took place around 10 minutes later. Previous footage prior to when the camera was turned off was also deleted, although officers were able to recover it.
At 10.17pm, Michael was captured on other CCTV taking what turned out to be his final steps, with footage showing him walking in the direction of his brother’s flat along Bathley Street, minutes before he was killed.
Following the murder, Paula Usherwood drove his attackers away from the murder scene.
Inquiries after the killing led to officers searching the home of Rebecca Bell, who was captured on CCTV with several of the murder suspects on the day Michael was killed but has today been cleared of murder.
Her home in Loughrigg Close, The Meadows, was searched on 13 November and officers found a bag containing three balaclavas, three pairs of gloves and a black Nike top. A knife and axe were also found under a bed. Forensic tests detected DNA belonging to Joshua Agboola and Joseph Boscombe on the balaclavas – and they went on to be charged with murder along with multiple others.