Gunman wanted to send ‘warning’ to shooting victim’s boyfriend, court hears

James Witham has admitted the manslaughter of Ashley Dale but denies murder. Credit: PA Media

A gunman who killed a council worker in her home says he intended to give a “warning” to her boyfriend and did not know anyone was in the house.

Ashley Dale, 28, was shot with a Skorpion sub-machine gun at home in Old Swan, Liverpool, at about 12.30am on 21 August 2022, after an alleged feud between five men accused of her murder and her partner Lee Harrison.

James Witham, 41, who has admitted manslaughter, told Liverpool Crown Court Mr Harrison had “ruined” his life by stealing from him and trying to take his drug dealing customers in North Wales.

Ashley Dale Credit: Merseyside Police/PA

He said he drove to Miss Dale’s home on Leinster Road at about 11.30pm on 20 August, after taking cocaine and drinking alcohol, and stabbed three of the tyres on Miss Dale’s car.

He told the court when no-one came out of the house he drove to Stadt Moers Park in Huyton where he said earlier that day a friend, who was in Spain wanted for Encrochat offences, had told him over the phone he had buried a Skorpion.

Witham said: “I don’t know what was going through my head. Just the worst mistake I’ve ever done in my life and I’m so sorry for it.”

He said he planned to go back to the house on Leinster Road and “give Lee a warning”.

Witham said it took him “about five minutes” to find the gun buried in the park and he retrieved it using a “little shovel” which he had in his car.

He said when he returned to Leinster Road, at about 12.30am, he barged the front door down with his shoulder and then went upstairs, firing shots in a bedroom.

He told the court: “The gun was automatic so I lost control of it basically then I’ve ran down stairs.”

He said he then went into the dining room and fired again, aiming at the wall.

He said: “I didn’t know what I was doing, my head was battered.”

Richard Pratt KC, defending Witham, asked if he knew Miss Dale was there, saw her, or heard her scream.

Witham said no.

Mr Pratt said: “It’s been suggested you pursued her through the house?”

Witham, who said he was wearing his hood up, a hat and a balaclava when he carried out the shooting, replied: “That’s bullshit.”

Mr Pratt added: “Did you have any reason to hurt or kill Ashley Dale?”

Witham said: “No she was a lovely girl and I’m so sorry for doing it. I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”

Witham said he did not tell any of his co-defendants he was planning to send a “warning” to Mr Harrison and denied that he had been acting on orders.

Witham and co-defendants Niall Barry, 26, Sean Zeisz, 28, Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, and Joseph Peers, 29, deny the murder of Miss Dale, conspiracy to murder Mr Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon - a Skorpion sub-machine gun - and ammunition.

Kallum Radford, 26, denies assisting an offender.