Hundreds of voice recordings recovered from a murder victim’s phone allowed her to narrate her own story in court and bring her killers to justice, the senior investigating officer in the case said.
The phone belonging to Ashley Dale, 28, was found an arm’s length away from where police officers discovered her, fatally injured, in the back garden of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, on 21 August 2022 after gunman James Witham forced his way in and shot her with a Skorpion machine gun.
Messages and voice notes sent between Miss Dale and her friends dating back from the day of her death to June, when she attended Glastonbury festival, were analysed by police for evidence of a feud between her boyfriend, Lee Harrison, and the four men convicted of her murder.
The jury in the Liverpool Crown Court trial heard Miss Dale’s own voice describing events in the weeks leading up to the shooting as many of the recordings were played in court.
Detective Chief Inspector Cath Cummings said: “For me, as a senior investigating officer, this was the most compelling and emotional part of the case.
“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 added: “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.”
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 the voice notes and text messages, Miss Dale told of an argument between Niall Barry, 26, and Mr Harrison that went back years and stemmed from the theft of drugs.
She also explained to friends how the feud had been reignited after a fight at Glastonbury involving Barry’s friend and co-defendant Sean Zeisz, 28.
In messages, she told friends she had a “bad, bad feeling about everything”.
Speaking on 1 August, 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.
She said: “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 said the recovery of the phone meant a “very modern prosecution”.
She added: “It is it is quite unprecedented to have a narrator, essentially, telling her own story.”
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