Four men found guilty of Ashley Dale murder

Ashley Dale was found with a gunshot wound in the back garden of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool Credit: Merseyside Police/PA

Four men have been found guilty of the murder of 28-year-old 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 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 slash tyres on Ms Dale's car in an attempt to lure out the occupants of the house.

Top row: Barry and Zeisz. Bottom Row: Witham and Peers. Credit: Merseyside Police

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 22 November.

Summary of verdicts

  • James Witham, 41, has been found guilty of the murder of Ashley Dale and conspiracy to murder Miss Dale's partner Lee Harrison.

  • Sean Zeisz, 27, of Huyton has been found guilty of murder and conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison.

  • Niall Barry, 26, of Tuebrook, has been found guilty of murder and conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison.

  • Joseph Peers, 29, of Roby, has been found guilty of murder and conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison.

  • All four men found guilty of murder have also been convicted of conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, a Skorpion sub-machine gun, and ammunition.

  • Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, of St Helens has been cleared of all charges.

  • Kallum Radford, 26, cleared of assisting an offender by helping to store the Hyundai used in the killing.

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