The beautician shot dead in a pub on Christmas Eve is believed to have been caught in the crossfire of a deadly County Lines drugs war.
Police reckon 26-year-old Elle Edwards’ murder suspect was a leading light in a street gang that ran lines in crack and heroin all over the UK.
And they are probing claims two other men shot in the doorway of the Lighthouse Inn pub were dealers from a rival estate in Birkenhead.
We can reveal there’d been one suspected murder and scores of tit-for-tat attacks between the Woodchurch OCG and the nearby Ford crew from the Beechwood estate in the weeks running up to the shooting.
Sources close to the gangs – who move ‘big weights’ in drugs and have access to firearms – say there’s been ‘beef’ over a series of raids on rival cannabis ‘grows’.
One said: “It’s been going off for months now.
“Both gangs are big drug dealing firms and move stuff all over the country – what they now call ‘County Lines’.
“They buy from wholesalers and go and take over places in North Wales or the Lakes or Scotland to sell smack and crack.
“They’ve also got grows on all over the estates and you’re seeing them get robbed all the time.
“Thing is if someone does that then there’ll be a price to pay and these lads have got access to guns and they will use them. They don’t give a f***.”
Gran-of-five Jackie Rutter, 55, was blasted to death in her own home in October in what police called a targeted attack. Her family say she was the innocent victim of a revenge hit.
One source told us it was linked to a robbery on a rival’s cannabis farm and ordered by high-ranking Beechwood estate gangsters.
In March a suspected Woodchurch ‘soldier’ was left fighting for his life after a drive-by shooting in broad daylight near his home.
A man was shot in the leg in the Beechwood estate in May – sparking two more shootings in Woodchurch.
Days later, three armed men balaclavas – believed to be Ford lads from the Beechwood estate – stormed the Arrowe Park hotel before fleeing.
Police tried to quell the escalating violence by bringing in extra stop and search powers on the warring estates but the feud continued.
A few weeks before Elle’s murder, a man was shot in the leg in the Woodchurch estate, prompting community inspector Alan McKeon to chillingly warn that innocent people could be ‘caught in the crossfire’.
He said: "If you have these factional disputes ongoing, and people using firearms in anger towards each other, we’ve seen in the last 12 months, with Olivia Pratt-Korbel being the obvious example, and even Rhys Jones prior to that and plenty of others in between, there are just absolutely innocent people who get caught in the crossfire of these people."
Then days before the shooting, the suspected gunman – believed to be linked to Woodchurch – was allegedly chased down and battered by two Beechwood estate gangsters.
Merseyside Police are now investigating whether the attack was the motive for the shooting or whether it was linked to the ongoing feud.
Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley said they ‘had received some tremendous intelligence’ but they are still searching for the gun that killed Elle.
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