‘I don’t go around shooting people’: Murder ‘mastermind’ denies hiring Dale Cregan for revenge killing, court hears

By Dominic Claeys-Jackson

Co-accused Leon Atkinson has claimed allegations he orchestrated the murder of Mark Short to avenge an attack on his mother are ‘rubbish’.

Prosecutors allege Atkinson, 35, from Ashton-under-Lyne, recruited police-killer Dale Cregan to undertake the revenge murder immediately after hearing of a pub brawl involving his mother.

Theresa Atkinson was slapped by Raymond Young, a friend of the Short family, in the Cotton Tree pub, Droylsden, on May 13 last year.

The incident, which allegedly occurred after Ms Atkinson made sexual comments to pub-goers, happened just 12 days before Mr Short’s murder in the same pub.

Prosecutors claim Atkinson swore revenge on the Short family after the slapping, with Atkinson himself confirming his mother notified him of the incident immediately.

Call data shows Atkinson communicating with Cregan, 29, soon after, but he told Preston Crown Court today he did not inform Cregan of the assault.

Atkinson, speaking as the first witness in the defence’s case, told jurors there was ‘no scheme’ to avenge his mother’s slapping.

He also claimed that if Cregan had killed Mr Short in the May 25 gun attack, it was ‘in the spur of the moment’ and ‘off his own back’.

“I don’t go around shooting people or bullying people,” Atkinson claimed. “It’s not the way I am.”

Atkinson received a call from his mother at 00.14am on May 14, claiming she had been slapped by Mr Young, for no known reason.

The defendant told jurors his mother sounded ‘very drunk’, and claimed he ‘knew she had not been slapped for nothing’ as she was troublesome when intoxicated.

After calling Mr Young the next day seeking answers, he was told his mother had been ‘bladdered and going ballistic’, hitting him twice with a bottle.

Apologising, Mr Young told an ‘embarrassed’ Atkinson he would drop off some flowers and chocolate for his mother, but Atkinson insisted it was not necessary.

Mark Short’s father David, who Atkinson also claimed he spoke to, told him he had tried to defuse the situation, and Ms Atkinson was ‘like a woman possessed’.

Atkinson claimed the phone call was ‘normal’, with ‘no threats or shouting’.

Luke Livesey, 27, from Hattersley, Ryan Hadfield, 28, from Droylsden, Damian Gorman, 38, from Glossop and Matthew James, 33, from Clayton, are charged with Mr Short’s murder, alongside Atkinson and Cregan.

All six co-accused are pleading not guilty to that charge, as well as the attempted murder of John Collins, Ryan Pridding and Michael Belcher.

David Short was killed in a gun and grenade attack on his Clayton home on August 10.

Cregan, Jermaine Ward, 24, Anthony Wilkinson, 38, from Stalybridge, and Francis Dixon, 37, from Stalybridge, are charged with his murder, with all four defendants pleading not guilty.

The co-accused are also charged with the attempted murder of Sharon Hark on the same day, and a single charge of causing an explosion.

Wilkinson additionally denies the charge of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.

Mohammed Ali, 32, from Chadderton, is accused of assisting an offender after allegedly helping three of the killers escape to Bradford.

Cregan has already pleaded guilty to the murders of PCs Bone, 32 and Hughes, 23, on September 18, at a house in Abbey Gardens, Mottram.

Prosecutors claim Cregan was already on the run from police in connection with the murders when he lured the policewomen to their deaths.

The trial continues, to resume at 10.30am today.

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