Two women who helped the killers of a Nottingham man by providing them with transport before and after their ‘organised murderous ambush’ have been jailed for a combined total of ten-and-a-half years.
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, known to many as Anton, 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 after he was fatally stabbed.
Nine gang members were jailed for a total of more than 260 years, following a trial in June this year, after being found guilty of murder.
The ‘hit team’ were driven from Manchester, to the scene of the murder in Nottingham, by 39-year-old Gemma Fearon.
Fearon, formerly of Dean Bank Close, Bollington, Macclesfield, appeared at Nottingham Crown Court for sentencing on Tuesday (3 October 2023) having previously been found guilty after a trial of encouraging/assisting in the commission of an indictable only offence, namely causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
Prosecutor Adrian Langdale KC said Fearon was a ‘close and trusted criminal associate’ of one of the lead gang members, with whom she swapped calls with after leaving Manchester, and that she was a ‘vital and necessary’ part of the planned hit.
The court heard that Fearon had also previously trafficked drugs, on behalf of the same gang member, for resale in The Meadows, in return for cash payments.
Mr Langdale said Fearon drove to a meeting to be briefed before going to collect the hit team and during their journey from Manchester she stopped to allow gang members to buy changes of clothing.
He added: “She knew the extent of the plan and without her transporting the hit team, this murder could not have occurred.”
The court also heard that 36-year-old Kerry Anne Shepherd helped gang members after the murder by allowing her vehicle to be used to get them away from the area and back to Manchester.
Shepherd was also a ‘conduit’ between the offenders as she provided them with information and updated them on what was happening at the scene.
Mr Langdale said Shepherd continued to help them despite being aware the victim had been fatally wounded and she had also allowed a gang member to use her phone in the aftermath of the murder.
Shepherd, formerly of Plantagenet Street, St Ann's, had previously been found guilty of assisting an offender and also appeared in court for sentencing on Tuesday (3 October 2023).
Sentencing Fearon, Mr Justice Turner said he was satisfied she was vulnerable to manipulation and was psychologically very vulnerable at the time of her offending.
However, he said she was ‘aware that her passengers were travelling to Nottingham for the purpose of inflicting serious violence and she knew that highly dangerous weapons were to be deployed.’
Fearon was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Sentencing Shepherd, Mr Justice Turner said he accepted she played no part in the events leading up to the killing, that her judgement throughout was ‘significantly clouded’, and that the help she gave did not restrict the course of justice.
She was given three-and-a-half years in prison.
Following the sentencings, Detective Chief Inspector Rob Routledge, who led the murder investigation, said:
“I hope that today’s sentences bring Anton’s family some sense of further closure.
“Fearon and Shepherd tried to help these brutal murderers evade justice so I am pleased they have now been locked up for their crimes and now have time to reflect on the consequences of their actions.
"Anton's family has remained calm and dignified throughout our extensive investigation and our thoughts remain with them.
"I would also like to pay tribute to our investigation team whose hard work ultimately helped secure convictions and significant sentences in this tragic case."