Viewers were left moved once again by last night’s Episode 2 of the real-life story of how the Liverpool schoolboy was fatally shot on his way home from football training, the victim of gang warfare near his family home. This week’s scenes saw Rhys being buried by his grief-stricken parents, and the Liverpool community rallying round in their support.
For Jeff, the senselessness of the crime remains the most shocking aspect.
He tells HuffPostUK:
“I’ve no doubt that Sean Mercer had no intention to kill Rhys Jones that day. It was utterly stupid, hubris, immaturity.
“This drama, for me, is something to do with truth. There are characters in it who can either be “a grass” or they can tell the truth of what they saw, help gain convictions, or they can keep their heads down, have an easier life and lie.
“The fact of the matter is that if Sean Mercer and the others had said immediately afterwards, ‘I didn’t mean to do this, I meant to scare these other guys, I didn’t mean to kill him,’ they’d be out of prison by now, but they created this ridiculous warrior-thing, they somehow dignified what they did. I wanted to get to the truth of what happened, for (Rhys’s parents) Melanie and Steve as well.
Jeff – who previously penned ‘Appropriate Adult’ about the Fred West murders, and ‘The Moorside’ about Shannon Matthews’ kidnapping – is well versed in the art of turning real life into captivating drama, yet he is clearly particularly moved by what happened when Melanie and Steve Jones lost their little boy, because of an accident of geography that put him in the line of fire between two warring teenagers.
Jeff still remembers vividly “that single headline of the little boy being shot on the way home from football training.
He says: “Rhys is the same age as my middle son, born in the same year.
“I knew the story had that core to it, but that wasn’t enough, it’s not just about taking a headline and looking at that, it was the opportunity to understand what went on. Then it folded out from there, the implications of this single act on a family, the community and ultimately the city as well, where it had an enormous impact.
“By getting into the DNA of what happened, this was an opportunity to say something about a certain type of youth culture, and the unpleasant aspects of it.”
Clearly, Jeff operates most effectively in this orbit of evil, where his perspective rests with onlookers, witnesses and those touched by unspeakable tragedy and crime. Why?
“The answer is in the question, because they are tough,” he explains. “Drama is about conflict, so the more difficult, the more challenging the story, the more drama there’s going to be. You’re looking for extremes of human behaviour, and you find it in what the Wests did or this crime, with a young boy being shot in the street.
“That’s not enough in itself, I’ve never been interested in finding out what motivated Ian Brady or Fred West, but coming at the story from a different angle, so you understand the impact on other people of what they did, in this case, the Jones’s. You unlock what happened and why it happened.”
Jeff weathered controversy with ‘The Moorside’ from critics accusing him of exploiting the teenage girl’s fate. This time, however, he has no doubt about his motives.
“The Jones family gave us their blessing and spent many hours with me when I was writing it, with the crew, they helped with every aspect. They really wanted people to understand what happens to a couple in a situation like that.
All of that is enormously healthy. We should be questioned because these are important things. We’re dealing with people’s lives. Imagine the horror if just before transmission, Melanie and Steve had said, we’ don’t support this. I’m very sure of why we made this and what it’s doing and what we’re saying.”
‘Little Boy Blue’ continues on Monday at 9pm on ITV.