20 November 2023

Four men convicted of murder of woman shot with machine gun in her home

20 November 2023

Four men have been convicted of the murder of a woman 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.

Some family members of the defendants left the court in tears after verdicts were returned.

As Barry’s mother left the court she mouthed “I love you” towards the dock.

Ms Dale’s mother Julie, 46, cried as the jury returned the first guilty verdict at about 2.30pm on Monday.

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.

Julie Dale said: “In my eyes, there’ll never be justice for me.

“The only justice would have been that this wouldn’t have happened. At least I can rest assured now knowing that these people are going to pay for what they’ve done.”

Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said she hoped the convictions would bring “some small comfort” to the family and friends of Ms Dale.

She said: “I hope those despicable cowards who will be commencing their time in prison will think about the devastating consequences that they’ve had on a family here in Merseyside.”

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.

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