Ashley Dale was murdered in her home in August 2022
Four men have been found guilty of murdering a woman who was shot dead in her home with a machine gun.
James Witham, 41, Joseph Peers, 29, Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, have been found guilty today at Liverpool Crown Court of the murder of 28-year-old Ashley Dale.
Miss Dale, an environmental health officer, was killed when gunman Witham forced open the door of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, in the early hours of August 21 last year, firing 10 bullets into her dining room.
One hit Miss Dale in the abdomen as she stood by the back door while five bullets struck the wall of an upstairs bedroom.
Witham admitted manslaughter, but a jury at Liverpool Crown Court also found him guilty of her murder, along with fellow “foot soldier” Peers, whom the prosecution alleged drove a Hyundai to the scene and earlier helped Witham to stab tyres on Miss Dale’s car in a bid to lure out the occupants of the house.
Barry and Zeisz were also convicted of murder after the jury heard they organised and egged on 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.
Top row: Barry and Zeisz with (bottom row) Witham and Peers
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.
The trial at Liverpool Crown Court heard Ms Dale’s own voice describing the row between her partner and Barry, as voice-notes she recorded and sent to friends in the two months before her murder were played to the jury.
The phone, found 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 had been spending 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.
A court artist sketch of Ian Fitzgibbon appearing at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court
The feud 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 after Miss Dale’s murder, Witham and Peers stayed in a hotel in St Helens before travelling to Scotland. 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 – a Skorpion sub-machine gun – and ammunition.
Fitzgibbon, of St Helens, was cleared of those charges. He punched the air as he was cleared of the murder, according to the Liverpool Echo.
Sentencing is due to take place on Wednesday at 11am.
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Ashley Dale’s mother Julie Dale and stepfather Rob Jones
Det Ch Insp Cath Cummings said the voice-notes from Miss Dale’s phone were the “most compelling and emotional” part of the case.
She added: “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the evidence of the murder victim play such a crucial role in a court case. Ashley was narrating her own story and events that led to her death.
“There was barely a dry eye in the courtroom as her increased fear and anxiety was played out through recovered voice notes from her phone.”
She continued: “It’s Ashley that’s actually brought these offenders to justice because overlaying that with the evidence that we’ve been able to gather she’s told us the story herself.”
Ashley Dale was ‘career driven’ and excited about starting a promotion
Miss Dale’s stepfather, Rob Jones, said her phone had been a “massive part” of the conviction of her murderers.
He said: “If it was left up to the accused and the person who, ultimately, there was the conspiracy to murder, Lee, this would never have got to trial because they all lie, they all cheat, they all steal, they know no different.”
In messages, Miss Dale told friends she had a “bad, bad feeling about everything”. Speaking on August 1, almost three weeks before her murder, she said: “My nerves are gone, when am out in the car with Lee just feeling like I’m looking over me shoulder all the time.”
Senior crown prosecutor Olivia Cristinacce-Travis said the recordings were “harrowing” to listen to, adding: “We all do text messages and WhatsApp, but it was the amount of voice notes that she used, which I suppose shows the realities of being in 2023 and the victim being a young woman.
“It was all of those voice notes that essentially documented how she was feeling on each day and what was going on in her life that were so different.”
She added: “It is it is quite unprecedented to have a narrator, essentially, telling her own story.”
Miss Dale’s mother Julie Dale, 46, said she was “very, very angry” towards Mr Harrison, who had been in a relationship with her daughter for about five years before her death.
She said: “Some days I feel like I’m more angry towards him than I am to the person who’s actually killed Ashley because without Lee Harrison this wouldn’t have happened. “
Julie Dale added: “We’ve had no remorse from him. We’ve had no support from him. We have no admittance that it’s anything to do with him.”
Mr Jones said: “The problem we keep coming back to is Ashley fell in love with the wrong boy. I’m not saying for one minute Ashley did not love him. I’m saying he doesn’t love her, clearly, by actions.”
Speaking to anyone involved in gun crime, Julie Dale said: “Just think about how it affects so many people. We’re broken. Our life is never, ever going to be the same ever again.”