Council worker's death was an 'act of reckless manner' say defence in Liverpool court

Ashley Dale was fatally shot at her home in Old Swan, Liverpool 21 August 2022. Credit: Family picture

A council worker who was fatally shot in her home died in an "act of reckless madness" but "not a targeted attack", the lawyer defending the gunman told the court.

Ashley Dale, 28, was shot in her home in Old Swan, Liverpool in the early hours of 21 August 2022.

James Witham, 41, admits manslaughter after forcing his way into Ashley Dale's home and firing a Skorpion machine gun.

But he denies murder, claiming he did not know anyone was in the house when he fired the shots.

Richard Pratt KC, defending Witham, told Liverpool Crown Court: "We say a full examination of the evidence tells you, in reality, this was not a deliberate, targeted shooting.

“It was, we readily accept, an act of reckless madness on the part of James Witham which had the most dreadful consequences.

"The same consequences, in fact, as if Ashley had been shot deliberately.”

A bullet casing found under a bed at the home of Ashley Dale Credit: Merseyside Police/PA

In his closing speech, Mr Pratt asked why Witham would be chosen to carry out the killing if, as the prosecution allege, there was a conspiracy to murder Miss Dale’s partner Lee Harrison.

“An assassin who can’t shoot straight, does that sound even remotely likely?” he said.

The court has heard Witham fired shots in the dining room and into the kitchen downstairs in the property and fired five shots into the wall of an upstairs spare bedroom.

Mr Pratt said: “He wanted to damage the property in a deranged thought process to send out a message and tragically, very tragically, in so doing one of those shots, discharged as we will see in less than a second, entered the body of Ashley Dale with the most awful consequence.”

"He has admitted, even on his own account, dreadful conduct which brought about the death of a young, aspirational woman in her own home, causing very great bereavement to those who knew her and who loved her.

“He’s told you he did what he did against a background of his and others dealing in class A drugs.

“Even though he may be portrayed by the prosecution as the fall guy, you will have no sympathy for him at all and we recognise that.

“I’m not here to ask you for sympathy, I’m asking you to do your duty as jurors.”

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

Kallum Radford, 26, denies assisting an offender.