Four men have been found guilty of the murder of Ashley Dale
3 weeks ago
Ashley Dale was killed after a shooting at her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, last August.
Four men have been convicted of the murder of Ashley Dale who was shot with a machine gun in her home after a feud involving her boyfriend.
Environmental health officer Ashley Dale, 28, was killed when gunman James Witham, 41, forced open the door of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, in the early hours of August 21 last year, firing 10 bullets in her dining room, one hitting Ms Dale in the abdomen as she stood by the back door, and five bullets into the wall of an upstairs bedroom.
Witham admitted her manslaughter but a jury at Liverpool Crown Court also found him guilty of her murder, along with fellow “foot soldier” Joseph Peers, 29, who the prosecution alleged drove a Hyundai to the scene and earlier helped Witham to stab tyres on Ms Dale’s car in an attempt to lure out the occupants of the house.
Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, were also convicted of murder after the jury heard they organised and encouraged the killing, which came after a feud between Miss Dale’s boyfriend Lee Harrison and Barry was re-ignited when Zeisz was assaulted at the Glastonbury festival last year.
Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, who was also accused of organising or encouraging the killing, was found not guilty of murder.
Kallum Radford, 26, was found not guilty of assisting an offender by helping to store the car used in the murder.
A trial at Liverpool Crown Court heard Ms Dale’s own voice describing the falling out between her partner and Barry, as voicenotes which she recorded and sent to friends in the two months before her murder were played to the jury.
The phone, recovered an arm’s length from where Ms Dale was found in her back garden, had been used in her final moments to try to call Mr Harrison, who was out with friends while she spent the night at home, watching television with her dachshund Darla.
The trial heard Barry’s feud with Mr Harrison, who did not co-operate with police after his girlfriend’s death, started about three years before the shooting when Mr Harrison sided with the Hillside organised crime group after they allegedly stole drugs from Barry.
The feud was re-ignited when both attended the Glastonbury festival in June 2022, the prosecution alleged.
Fitzgibbon, who flew to Dubai after the shooting and was extradited from Spain in August, told the jury he had witnessed Barry threatening to stab Mr Harrison during the festival.
In the days following Ms Dale’s murder, Witham and Peers stayed in a hotel in St Helens before travelling to Scotland and Barry was arrested at a golf resort in Formby after making plans to flee the country.
Witham, of Huyton, Peers, of Roby, and Barry, of Tuebrook, were also convicted of conspiracy to murder Mr Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon – the Skorpion sub-machine gun – and ammunition.
Fitzgibbon, of St Helens, was cleared of those charges.
Sentencing will take place on Wednesday at 11am.
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner has released the following statement.
Emily Spurrell said: “I cannot begin to imagine the pain, suffering and loss Ashley Dale’s loved ones have experienced since her shocking murder in August 2022. No family should have to face the devastating heartache they have had to endure in the past fifteen months.
“Ashley was just 28 years old. She was a beautiful young woman with the rest of her life ahead of her. She was at home that night, in a place she was meant to feel safe. She was making a positive contribution to our region in her role as an environmental health officer at Knowsley Council and she’d just successfully achieved a promotion. Heartbreakingly, she never got the chance to begin her new job as her life was cut short in the most brutal and merciless way.
“No justice will ever bring Ashley back to her family. Being present in court over the last seven weeks, witnessing the heartless attempts of those four cowards to cover-up their involvement in Ashley’s murder while being forced to relive the events of that tragic night, must only have compounded their unthinkable suffering.
“Thankfully, the jury saw through those lies and while today’s guilty verdict will not end their grief and loss, I hope it will bring them some small comfort that the four individuals responsible will be spending many years behind bars for their appalling crimes.
“I would like to pay tribute to the investigation team at Merseyside Police, and the police officers and staff who supported them, for their commitment and determination to solving this case. In the hours and days following this horrendous incident, right up to today’s guilty verdict, they have been relentless in their pursuit of justice to make sure those responsible are made to for their actions. I’m also very grateful to a number of other forces who provided support.
“I’d also like to thank the people of Old Swan and the brave witnesses who through immense courage came forward with vital information to ensure these callous individuals are no longer able to spread toxicity and fear within our communities.
“Ashley’s senseless murder was the second of three fatal shootings in what was a very dark week for our city, showing that there is a still a shameful minority who occupy the gutters of our society and who are prepared to use guns with no care for the harm they inflict on others. To break into an innocent young woman’s house and fire a powerful submachine pistol is deplorable and yet these men have shown not a single shred of remorse.
“There is no place for firearms in our region. The police are relentless in their approach to tackling heartless criminals. Last year our region saw the number of gun crime incidents reduce by almost a third but even one firearm incident is one too many. I am determined to do everything I can to support the force as they continue to pursue those organised crime groups who attempt to spread fear and intimidation in communities in which they operate.
“The ongoing support of our communities is also vital in making it clear these disgusting, callous individuals will not be tolerated in our proud region. I would urge anybody, if you know where weapons are being kept or suspect who is using them then please, do the right thing and speak out. By doing so, you could play a vital role in protecting the lives of innocent people and preventing further tragedies.
“Together, we can stop those intent on causing violence and harm and make all our communities stronger and safer places to live, work and play for all.”
If you have been affected by this case and want to speak to someone or access support, you can contact my Victim Care Merseyside service on 0808 175 3080 or visit www.victimcaremerseyside.org
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