A man has been sentenced to life with a minimum of 42 years in prison for murdering Olivia Pratt-Korbel in her Liverpool home, as her anguished mother asked how he had been capable of continuing to shoot despite his nine-year-old victim’s screams.
Cheryl Korbel brought a teddy made from her daughter’s pyjamas into the witness box as she told Manchester Crown Court that Thomas Cashman had “left the biggest hole in our lives”, saying she could not understand how he kept shooting “after hearing the terrified screams and utter devastation he had caused”.
But the 34-year-old gunman refused to appear in the dock as he was sentenced on Monday for murdering the schoolgirl with a bullet which also hit her mother, as he attempted to kill convicted drug-dealer Joseph Nee – who barged into Olivia’s home in his bid to escape.
Speaking outside the court, Olivia’s mother expressed relief that “justice has prevailed” and her family could “draw a line under seven months of agonising torment” endured at Cashman’s hands.
However, Ms Korbel said that she and her family “have already started our life sentence of having to spend the rest of our lives without Olivia”, who she described as “my little love, my shadow”.
During the 19-day trial, Cashman admitted being a “high-level” cannabis dealer but denied being the gunman in the fatal shooting on 22 August last year. The jury found him guilty on Thursday.
Noting that “the mental scars from that night will persist forever”, the judge said in her sentencing remarks that Cashman “has not acknowledged his responsibility for Olivia’s death and so has demonstrated no remorse”, adding: “His failure to come into court is further evidence of that.”
Alongside the lengthy murder term, Mrs Justice Yip also handed Cashman life with a minimum of 22 years in prison for the attempted murder of Nee, 10 years for wounding Ms Korbel with intent, and two 18-year sentences for firearms offences, which he will serve concurrently.
The court heard he had been “scoping out” Nee, the intended target, on the day of the shooting and lay in wait for him, armed with two guns, as he watched a football match at the house of a friend.
Footage played to the jury showed the gunman chasing Nee up Kingsheath Avenue and firing three shots. The jury was told Nee ran towards the open door of Olivia’s family home, after Ms Korbel came out to see what the noise was, and the fatal shot was fired through the front door.
It hit Ms Korbel in the wrist as she tried to shut the door and struck Olivia in the chest.
Cashman, a father-of-two, said he had been at a friend’s house around the time of the shooting, 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 previously 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”.
Mrs Justice Yip praised the woman’s courage and granted her lifelong anonymity. The Sunday Times reported that she has had more death threats than any other police witness in Merseyside’s history, with one detective superintendent saying he had “never seen such bravery” in three decades of policing.
The judge also commended Olivia’s mother’s strength and bravery, saying that she had “fought to keep the trouble outside” and despite suffering “terrible pain as the bullet passed through her body”, battled through it as she desperately tried to save Olivia.
Ms Korbel’s own need for emergency treatment meant that she could not be Olivia when she died, the judge said.
Lamenting that Ms Korbel should have been able to give her daughter the reassurance she had come downstairs to seek, Mrs Justice Yip said: “What happened instead was chilling and strikes fear not only into the immediate community but also into the minds of other children and their parents.”
“The killing of Olivia Pratt-Korbel is an offence that shocked not only the city of Liverpool but the nation,” she continued. “Olivia’s name is likely to be remembered for many years. She should not be remembered only for her dreadful last moments.
“Her family have spoken today of Olivia in life and of the hopes and dreams for her future, which were so cruelly snatched away. It is plain that Olivia was a lovely little girl, who cared for others and brightened the lives of her family and friends.”
During the sentencing, Ms Korbel revealed that her daughter had been due to have her hair cut five days after her death and wanted to donate it to the Princess Trust. She described Olivia as “the light of our lives, a sassy, chatty girl who never ran out of energy”.
“My worst nightmare was being separated from Liv, not being with her when she needed me the most,” she added. “I was the first person to hold my baby girl and as her mum I should have been the last.”
“One thing I miss the most is hearing her say ‘mum’. I just miss hearing her voice. It’s just so quiet,” said Ms Korbel. “I would do and give anything in the world to hear her chatting to me.”
She also told the court that her grandmother had been recently admitted to hospital and was receiving end-of-life care. She “held out long enough to hear that coward had been found guilty” but passed away the night before he was sentenced, Ms Korbel said.
Also speaking outside the court on behalf Olivia’s family, Louise Pratt said her niece had “died a scared nine-year-old”, adding: “We hope Cashman is haunted by this knowledge for the rest of his life”.
“Our greatest hope is for this conviction to lead to more guns and especially those used in the murder of Olivia to be handed in to the police so that no other families have to go through this tragedy,” she added.
Paul Russell, 41, who admitted assisting an offender by driving Cashman away from an address after the shooting and passing his clothes to another person, is expected to be sentenced separately at a later date.