Liverpool's top judge today "rejected completely" a torturer and murderer's claim that he tried to give his victim CPR.

Lee Knox, 43, directed the savage demise of dad-of-one Joseph McKeever, from Walton, over a £900,000 cannabis trafficking plot gone wrong.

The 54-year-old's battered body was found in the boot of a stolen Ford Focus, set ablaze on a field in Everton, late on June 15, 2017.

He had suffered two "shattered" kneecaps, broken eye sockets and ribs, brain damage, a crushed voice box, had bone chopped away from his jaw and was strangled at least twice with a ligature.

Knox, formerly of Canal View, Melling, escaped to Spain within hours of the killing and spent nearly three years on the run until his arrest last April.

Crying in court, the dad-of-two claimed that he was a "terrified" witness to the violence and fought to save Mr McKeever's life by giving him CPR.

But a jury unanimously convicted him of false imprisonment and murder after a 17-day trial.

Five men had already been convicted in connection with the Everton fan's gruesome death.

Jamie Grimes, then 21, was convicted of murder and jailed for life with a minimum of 27 years in 2018, while Anthony Wales, then 36, admitted murder and was jailed for life with a minimum of 24 years in 2019.

Darren Colecozy, then 22, and Karl Kelly, then 31, were convicted of manslaughter and jailed for 22 years each, and Dylan Owen, then 22, was convicted of assisting an offender and locked up for six years.

Liverpool Crown Court heard Knox has convictions for 29 offences, including offering to supply crack cocaine and dealing ecstasy, possessing an offensive weapon, and battery.

Murder victim Joseph McKeever

This is what Judge Andrew Menary, QC, the Honorary Recorder of Liverpool, told the killer.

Judge Menary began his sentencing remarks by describing the circumstances of Mr McKeever's detention and killing as "truly horrific".

He said he was satisfied Knox and the victim were "involved in an enterprise to import substantial quantities of cannabis into the UK from Spain".

He said: "Mr McKeever, together with a business partner James Doyle, provided the transport and logistics and you were the intended customer.

"It is highly likely that you were, at the time we are concerned with, involved in the wholesale commercial supply of cannabis in this city.

"It is likely that Jamie Grimes was also interested in this business - perhaps as your partner - but I am sure you were the senior partner."

Judge Menary said Knox gave an account to the jury of coming to know Mr McKeever years ago through both going to Goodison Park to watch Everton FC, and an account of how they met again in a bar in Alicante, when he was living in Spain.

He added: "The circumstances of that meeting are likely to be just so much nonsense."

Pictured are Jamie Grimes, Darren Colecozy, Karl Kelly and Dylan Owen
Pictured L-R are Jamie Grimes, Darren Colecozy and Karl Kelly, all convicted over the killing of Joseph McKeever, and Dylan Owen, convicted of assisting an offender.

Judge Menary said a lorry containing 145kg of cannabis was intercepted by Border Force at Newhaven on June 11, 2017.

"When the cannabis did not arrive as expected, you contacted Joseph McKeever and arranged a meeting."

He said that took place at the Royal Oak pub in Walton on June 13, when Mr Doyle was also present.

The judge said: "It may be that the outcome of the meeting was that all concerned believed - wrongly - that the cannabis had arrived safely in the UK."

He said early the next morning, Knox, Mr McKeever and Mr Doyle drove down to an area of Birmingham "the destination of the lorry stopped in Newhaven".

The Royal Oak pub on Spellow Lane, Walton
The Royal Oak pub on Spellow Lane, Walton

He said Knox and Mr McKeever came back just before midday, while Doyle remained and returned separately, but "there was no trace of the cannabis".

Judge Menary said Knox and Mr McKeever went to MGM Garage in Kensington, where Knox's associate Grimes worked as a mechanic, and another meeting at the Royal Oak was arranged that afternoon.

He said: "I have no doubt that you and others began to suspect that your load had gone missing and that Mr McKeever was in some way involved. For whatever reason you decided that Joseph McKeever in some way had taken the cannabis for his own use.

"On the pretext no doubt of another meeting, you lured Mr McKeever to MGM Garage, where Grimes had the use of a converted container which he used as an office for his business. You also arranged for Grimes to collect a man called Anthony Wales - someone who you described in evidence of being capable of real violence.

"At shortly before 6pm that night you, Mr McKeever and Wales went into the container. Less than two minutes later, Grimes was dispatched to collect something to tie up Mr McKeever and a weapon to use to beat him. The purpose was so that he could be threatened in order to give information about the missing load of cannabis.

Google aerial view of MGM Garages off Butler Street, Liverpool. This shows a green container involved in the Joseph McKeever murder trial.
Google aerial view of MGM Garages off Butler Street, Liverpool. This shows a green container involved in the Joseph McKeever murder trial.

"The three of you quickly moved from threats to actual violence. When Mr McKeever's body eventually was recovered, he was found to have multiple injuries consistent with a severe beating: fractured ribs, deep bruising on his back, multiple facial fractures. Most significantly both of his kneecaps were fractured as a result of focal blows with a weapon of some description. It is clear that he was beaten in this way in the hope that he would provide information.

"Whether you were directly involved in the beating or ordering others to do it makes no difference at all to your culpability. The item collected by Grimes - some sort of heavy tool - was undoubtedly used to inflict at least some of the injuries.

Anthony Wales who changed his plea to guilty for the murder of Joseph McKeever
Anthony Wales was convicted of the murder of Joseph McKeever

"Later scientific examination of the container revealed some blood staining, the blood emanating from Mr McKeever. Because the floor was subsequently flooded with oil, the scientific examination was unable to reveal the full extent of what had happened in the container. But the oil was used for a purpose and it must be that it was feared by you and others that examination would show the full extent of the merciless beating he received over a very long period of time."

The judge said it was likely that Mr McKeever eventually did give some information and probably told Knox that he might find drugs or Mr Doyle at an industrial unit in Burscough, because later that evening Knox and others travelled there.

He said: "I have no doubt and I so find having heard the evidence that you were the leader of this group. You were the one calling the shots and directing operations."

Judge Menary said this was clear from Knox's business connection with Mr McKeever and Mr Doyle, the only explanation for the time he spent alone with the victim was that he was the owner of the missing cannabis and that he was the one who went to Birmingham.

Find your nearest vaccination centre by using your postcode below

The judge said it was "instructive" that Grimes was driving Knox about, not just because he didn't have a licence, but willing to "fetch and carry" him, that Grimes was sent to collect Wales, was the one sent to fetch the bindings and tool, and the one who drove Knox away when he fled to Spain.

He said Knox didn't want to leave the victim alone in the container when he went to Burscough, so others were recruited to find "alternative accommodation".

Judge Menary said: "One of the injuries from which Mr McKeever eventually was to die was a blunt force head injury causing a major subdural bleed. It was the result of a blow or blows struck with substantial force. I have no doubt that this blow was struck whilst McKeever was still in the container."

He said it wasn't possible to say who struck the blow, but it must have been struck with the tool collected by Grimes, and he rejected Knox's account to the jury that Wales could have caused this injury by kicking the victim in the head when he was sitting on a chair.

Police cordoned off Picton Crescent while examining the flat after the death of Joseph McKeever
Police cordoned off Picton Crescent while examining the flat after the death of Joseph McKeever

The judge said at around 10.30pm, Mr McKeever was put into a Citroen van and driven to a flat in Picton Crescent, where he was carried upstairs.

He said: "You and the others achieved nothing in Burscough. Whether that was because there was no cannabis in the unit or because you could not get into the unit is impossible to say. In any event you returned to the flat empty handed and probably frustrated.

"Mr McKeever by now was on a single mattress on the living room floor. It seems that by this stage you as a group and you in particular had lost patience with Mr McKeever. You had gone to Burscough and achieved nothing. Mr McKeever had nothing more to give in terms of information."

Judge Menary said blood staining was later found on the mattress and around it, consistent with Mr McKeever having been assaulted while on the mattress with an impact into wet blood. He said: "On the mattress there were footprints in blood. These were consistent with stamps into wet blood."

Liverpool's courts are some of the busiest in the UK, with a huge variety of cases being heard each week.

To get a behind the scenes look at how they work and the moments that don't make our stories, subscribe to our free weekly Echo Court Files newsletter, written by court reporters Neil Docking and Lauren Wise.

How do I sign up?

It's free, easy and takes no time at all.

  1. First just click on this link to our newsletter sign-up centre.
  2. Once you're there, put your email address where it says at the top, then click on the Echo Court Files button. There are other newsletters available too if you want them as well.
  3. When you've made your choice, press the Save Changes button at the bottom.

He added: "At some point Mr McKeever was strangled. It was done with sufficient force to cause fractures to the cartilage around the voice box. It was not the only time that severe pressure was exerted to Mr McKeever's neck and throat because deep bruising around the voice box was caused at a later point. He was also strangled with a ligature, probably a rope that was likely left in place and burnt away when his body and the car carrying it was later set on fire."

Judge Menary said he "rejected completely" the idea put forward by Knox to the jury that he gave the victim CPR or any assistance.

He said: "At around 6am, Grimes returned to the flat. He was in the flat for around half an hour. It is a proper inference that the final episode of strangulation occurred at this time whether at his hand or at the hand of Knox or Wales. This episode was to 'finish off' Mr McKeever given that his injuries by then were so severe and you could not afford to let him survive."

Forensic officers examine the interior of a flat in Picton Crescent in Wavertree in relation to the Joseph McKeever murder probe

The judge said Mr McKeever died as a result of a combination of fatal assaults involving severe blunt force head trauma and ligature strangulation.

He said efforts were then made to destroy evidence, as Grimes went immediately to MGM Garage and switched off the CCTV system to try to delete it.

Judge Menary said Grimes carried out a clean up of the container and "deliberately and carefully" spread waste oil all over the floor of the container.

He said: "This must have been to conceal blood which was on the floor and which was in quantities too great easily to remove.

"Grimes returned to the flat at about 11am. It is likely that he brought the large plastic container of petrol found later by the police."

Judge Menary said it may have been they thought about setting fire to the victim's body in the flat, but decided to dispose of it in another terrible way.

A blue Ford Focus ST has been linked by police to the murder of Joseph McKeever

He said Knox left the flat, made preparations to leave the country and managed to evade capture until he was arrested, using a false name, in Belfast.

Judge Menary said: "After you had left the city, the plan to dispose of the vehicles involved in the killing and the body itself was put into action.

"At around 5.25pm, Mr McKeever's body was unceremoniously taken down the stairs and put into the back of a Ford Focus which then took it away. At shortly before 11pm the car containing the body was set alight.

"Mr McKeever died because he became involved in serious crime. But he did nothing to provoke what happened to him.

"What happened to him was the result of ruthless criminals first torturing him to obtain information and then killing him when he did not provide them with what they wanted.

"The effect on those who loved and cared for him is not diminished because of the fact - completely unknown to them - that he was involved in the importation of drugs."

Joseph McKeever
Joseph McKeever

Judge Menary said impact statements set out that the victim was a "well loved and cherished" member of a family, with parents and a child, who had suffered a terrible loss.

He said Knox's criminal record gave no indication that he was prone to very serious acts of violence, but in setting a minimum term, he had to consider whether a weapon was taken to the scene, with the intent to commit an offence or have it available to use as a weapon, and used it to commit murder.

Judge Menary said he had "no doubt" that was the case and that indicated a starting point of 25 years.

He said there was no evidence Mr Justice William Davis considered this point when he sentenced Grimes and Wales, when he adopted a starting point of 15 years. However, he said there were multiple aggravating factors which made Knox's crime "exceptionally serious".

He said: "You played the leading role in this group attack. There was a significant degree of planning.

"Mr McKeever was lured to the place where the attack began. He was detained for many hours. The use of the flat was the result of a deliberate arrangement.

Lee Knox, 40, from Liverpool, wanted for questioning in relation to the murder of Joseph McKeever

"The death of Mr McKeever followed prolonged severe violence including the deliberate smashing of his kneecaps, the use of an instrument to inflict a chop type injury to the jaw and a severe overall beating. He must have suffered unimaginable pain for hour after hour that day.

"The pathology evidence is that he was alive for at least four hours after the knee injuries. Mr McKeever's body was substantially destroyed by fire.

"The killing occurred against a background of serious crime and was a punishment. There was an attempt to destroy evidence. And you fled the country.

"And I am sure that there came a point when you deliberately killed him. That became the intention at the end even if you did not start out with that intention."

He said there were "no mitigating factors" and if he had adopted a lower starting point like Justice Davis, he still would have reached the same sentence.

Judge Menary said Justice Davis set minimum terms for Grimes of 27 years and for Wales of 24 years, but Knox should have "no unjust sense of grievance" when comparing his sentence, as he had no doubt he would, with those passed on Grimes and Wales.

He said: "Your position is going to be different to them, because of the role you played."

Stories from Liverpool Crown Court

Judge Menary said: "It is important that you and the public understand that the minimum term which I am about to impose is the minimum period which you will serve in prison before you are entitled to apply for parole.

"When you apply for parole, there is no guarantee that you will be released immediately or ever.

"Whether and when you are released will be determined by the parole board and you will only be released when the parole board is satisfied that you no longer present a risk to the public.

Can you help us keep Merseyside covered?

"If and when you are released, you will be subject to licence conditions which will continue for the rest of your life. If you breach those conditions, you may be recalled to serve some or all of what remains of your sentence."

Judge Menary jailed Knox for life with a minimum of 30 years and passed a concurrent sentence of 12 years for false imprisonment.