A GUNMAN posing as a pizza delivery driver shot an innocent man on his own doorstep, a court has heard.

Meanwhile, jurors have been told of a foiled gang plot to shoot the dad of Leon and Anthony Cullen on the same night.

Aaron Bretherton, Lewis Fitzpatrick and Anthony Morris are all currently on trial at Liverpool Crown Court in connection with the shooting in Orford on the evening of April 24 2020.

Prosecution barrister Jaime Hamilton told the jury in his opening speech on Tuesday and Wednesday this week that victim David Barnes answered a knock on the door of his home on Poplars Avenue shortly after 8.45pm on the night in question.

Warrington Guardian:

Police on Poplars Avenue the morning after the shooting

The 55-year-old discovered Bretherton stood outside the address holding pizza boxes, although he had not ordered a takeaway.

He became suspicious as his stepson Liam Byrne Jnr – the supposed intended target of the shooting – had been warned by police days earlier that he was ‘in danger of being attacked’, and immediately shut the door again.

As he did so, the 24-year-old defendant opened fire before fleeing.

One gunshot hit the floor, while another bullet travelled through the door and hit Mr Barnes in the lower right leg – causing him ‘life-changing’ injuries.

Byrne Jnr, who is believed to be an associate of the Cullens and was previously jailed for four years in 2016 after being convicted of conspiracy to supply heroin when aged 22, was not home at the time of the incident.

Warrington Guardian:

Liam Byrne Jnr

Fitzpatrick, 26, is accused of helping to arrange the assault and is said to have attended a reconnaissance mission alongside serving solider Bretherton in the late afternoon of the same day.

Meanwhile, 23-year-old Morris allegedly supplied the vehicle – a works van from the garage where he was employed – used to transport the trio between their native Liverpool and the crime scene.

The court heard that they were acting on behalf of Jamie Rothwell, who was arrested in Amsterdam in December over his alleged involvement.

Warrington Guardian:

Jamie Rothwell

He is said to have given his orders over EncroChat, an encrypted messaging service used by organised criminals before it was cracked by police last year, and offered up a bounty of £10,000.

Through these messages, detectives discovered a second planned hit on Charlie Cullen – Leon and Anthony Cullen’s father.

Leon Cullen is suspected of being the head of a large-scale gang involved in the supply of drugs and firearms.

Warrington Guardian:

Leon Cullen

The 33-year-old was extradited to the UK from the United Arab Emirates last week following his arrest in Dubai in January last year, which came after nearly two years on the run as Warrington’s most wanted man.

Twin brother Anthony, of Colemere Close in Padgate, was handed 27 years behind bars in 2019 over the conspiracy.

Warrington Guardian:

Hours after the Poplars Avenue shooting, another unidentified conspirator posing as a pizza man attended a property on Sinclair Avenue in Longford where their dad had previously lived.

But the caller left after the present occupant informed him that Mr Cullen had since moved.

Mr Hamilton told the court: “The first lockdown, just a little under a year ago, caused most of us to work from home – but not everybody of course, and not the serious criminal.

“For the serious criminal, there was still business to be taken care of.

“As far as they were concerned, that required them being out and about.

“In April last year, Jamie Rothwell plotted with others to shoot individuals with whom he had grievances.

“There is no doubt at all that Mr Bretherton was the gunman – he admits it.

“This trial will deal with why he was there and who else was involved.”

He added: “The question is whether Mr Barnes was the target of the attack or whether someone else was, and whether Mr Bretherton was working to his own purposes or acting as part of a wider conspiracy to target Liam Byrne Jnr.”

Warrington Guardian:

Morris was arrested when his van was pulled over by police in Southport two days after the incident, while Bretherton and Fitzpatrick were detained at their respective homes in May 2020.

A Glock 19 9mm handgun was recovered from the extractor of the cooker in Bretherton’s apartment, while ammunition and a magazine were found in the fan in the bathroom.

But this pistol is not believed to have been the weapon used during the shooting.

Gunpowder residue was also discovered on a Prada jacket and a backpack inside the flat, as was a ‘significant’ amount of cash and a BB gun.

Bretherton admits inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and possession of a firearm.

Warrington Guardian:

But all three deny conspiracy to inflict grievous bodily harm.

Morris and Fitzpatrick deny possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.

Thirty-four-year-old Rothwell, of Salford, remains abroad awaiting extradition back to the UK.

The trial, before judge Stuart Driver, continues and is expected to run for up to three weeks.