A cannabis dealer has denied being a gang boss who directed the torture and murder of a father-of-one after a £900,000 cocaine shipment went missing.
Lee Knox has claimed to be an underling in an operation that ended with Joseph McKeever’s body being found in a burnt-out car in Everton.
Knox, from Melling, said he worked for Mr Keever and his business partner James Doyle, who were importing 150 kilos of cannabis from Spain.
He claimed to be due a payment of £5,000 when the drug was delivered but prosecutors allege Knox was actually the kingpin.
Mr Doyle was responsible for a lorry full of drugs not arriving, prompting a hunt for the £900,000 shipment, Knox told Liverpool Crown Court.
Under cross-examination by Tim Storrie, QC, prosecuting, Knox said: ‘I wasn’t playing no leading role’.
Lee Knox has claimed to be an underling in an operation that ended with Joseph McKeever’s (pictured) body being found in a burnt-out car in Everton
He said he was helping Mr McKeever and was supposed to meet Anthony Wales, a representative of the buyers of the drugs, at MGM Garage in Kensington, at 6pm on June 14, 2017.
He said Mr Doyle failed to show up but he, Mr McKeever and Wales went into a shipping container used as an office by mechanic Jamie Grimes.
Wales suddenly hit the victim, Knox added, saying he and Grimes didn’t inflict or encourage any violence. They only collected a metal bar and straps from the garage because Wales told them to.
He said he thinks Grimes was wrongly convicted by a jury of murder in 2018.
Knox said James Doyle failed to show up but he, Mr McKeever and Wales went into a shipping container used as an office by mechanic Jamie Grimes
Knox said the suggestion Wales was a ‘dog on a leash’ at his bidding was ‘totally false’ and he was ‘terrified’ of Wales.
Mr Storrie alleged they were ‘acting as a team’ against Mr McKeever, that Knox ‘shepherded’ him into the container and ‘that you knew he was going to be beaten and tortured when he went in there’ – all of which Knox denied.
He said it must have been ‘thirsty work’, because Knox had a beer with Wales, but Knox denied these claims and said Wales offered beers to everyone, and that he took one, but didn’t drink it.
Mr Storrie said: ‘He was a monster as far as you were concerned, is that right?’ ‘Yes, he was,’ replied Knox.
The prosecutor said: ‘And there you are, having a drink with him, isn’t that right?’ Knox said: ‘What am I supposed to do?’
Mr Storrie said: ‘When were you supposed to put your arm round him and comfort him?’ Knox accepted another clip showed him putting an arm around Wales’ shoulder, but said this was ‘trying to get him on side’.
Jamie Grimes (left) was convicted of murder while Darren Colecozy (second left) and Karl Kelly (second right) were convicted of manslaughter. Dylan Owen (right) was convicted of assisting an offender
The defendant said: ‘He was a monster, but he wasn’t a monster full time, he seemed to calm down.’ Mr Storrie later said: ‘Aren’t you putting your arm around him because you were the boss?’
Knox said: ‘No, I was putting my arm around Jamie too, because I was trying to calm him down too.’
Judge Andrew Menary, QC, asked why Wales allowed everyone to keep their mobile phones, to which Knox said he thought Wales knew they were all scared of him and wouldn’t call the police.
Knox said he tried to convince Wales that Mr McKeever hadn’t ripped the buyers off and the situation could be resolved. However, he said cocaine snorting Wales repeatedly hit the victim’s legs with a metal bar, which may have broken his kneecaps.
Mr Storrie said a pathologist found the victim was strangled with a ligature, potentially twice, and had marks on his neck, but Knox said he never saw anyone strangle him or such marks – swearing on ‘everything holy’, including his children’s lives.
He said: ‘If I had seen Wales go near his neck I would have risked my own life. I would have jumped on top of him.’ Knox said he didn’t know how a piece of bone was ‘cleanly’ chopped from Mr McKeever’s jaw and never saw a blade or him bleeding from his jaw.
He denied directing the violence and said: ‘There’s no weed, there’s no money in this world that would make me do this to any human being, let alone a mate, a good friend of mine, a gentleman that Joseph was.’
Knox said he was helping Mr McKeever and was supposed to meet Anthony Wales (pictured), a representative of the buyers of the drugs, at MGM Garage in Kensington, at 6pm on June 14, 2017
Knox said he didn’t know why Grimes was shown moving vans or getting a plastic sheet, but Mr McKeever’s hired Renault Megane was taken away because Wales was paranoid about it having trackers on it.
He said he thought they were going to an industrial estate in Burscough in Grimes’ van, as per Wales’ orders, because Mr McKeever said Mr Doyle had a yard there.
However, just before this, he said Wales kicked the victim in the head, leaving him semi-conscious, which may have caused a brain injury.
He accepted he didn’t give Mr McKeever first aid, as there was ‘no time’, but said he sat in the back of the van, holding his hand, trying to reassure him, when they left at around 10.20pm.
Knox said he hoped they would get pulled over by the police, but Mr Storrie said steps were taken to make sure they weren’t, as Grimes fixed a faulty rear light on the van, having collected a bulb from a compartment near Knox.
He said he didn’t remember this and denied that hoping they would be stopped was a ‘lie’. He said he didn’t expect to go to Darren Colecozy’s flat in Wavertree, where Colecozy and Karl Kelly – both convicted of manslaughter – helped Wales carry Mr McKeever inside.
Knox said he thought the trip he then took with Wales and Grimes to Burscough to look for Mr Doyle’s yard without Mr McKeever was pointless.
He told the jury back at the flat he drifted in and out of sleep, before waking up around 5am, finding the victim dead, and unsuccessfully giving him CPR.
He said he picked up a cigarette next to Mr McKeever and smoked it in the kitchen, which explained why his and the victim’s DNA were found on the stub and his fingerprints discovered in the victim’s blood, but didn’t witness any violence in the flat.
Mr Storrie said: ‘There must have been some unspeakable acts of violence taking place whilst you were managing to nap. Is that the case?’
‘No,’ Knox replied. Knox said he was ‘sucked into a situation I had no control over’ and if he was guilty of murder, he would have pleaded guilty, like Wales did.
He told jurors he believed the CCTV and a timeline of events backed up his account and everything he had said ‘made perfect sense’. Knox said Wales, Colecozy and Knox were a team, while he protested throughout, only stopping after Mr McKeever died.
He said he had nothing to do with cleaning the flat or container, or the disposal of the victim’s body, and didn’t go to police because his family would be endangered, instead choosing to flee abroad with Grimes.
Knox said: ‘I didn’t want my kids or my missus to end up in a dingy flat or in a burned out car, or me.’
He added: ‘I’m sorry I ran away, I’m sorry I never contacted the police, at that time I wasn’t thinking clearly, I had been through a night of hell, I had been terrorised along with Joseph.’
He said he didn’t understand why Mr McKeever was killed, adding: ‘If it was my money that he owed me, why would I kill him? Now he owes you money and you’re wanted for murder.’
Mr Storrie suggested he took the ‘executive action’ of fleeing to Spain while ‘the staff were left to clean up’. Knox denied this and said: ‘I was scared of getting caught by Wales’ people and scared of getting caught by the police and was running, just running.’
The trial continues.