Who was Ashley Dale and how did she die?

Ashley Dale with her mum at a music festival. Credit: Merseyside Police

Four men have been found guilty of murdering Ashley Dale.

Following a seven-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court, a jury found James Witham, Sean Zeisz, Niall Barry and Joseph Peers guilty of the murder of 28-year-old Ashley, who was fatally shot in her home in Leinster Road in Old Swan, Liverpool on 21 August 2022.

Ian Fitzgibbon was cleared of all charges.

Ashley Dale was an environmental worker at Knowsley Council, and considered a "rising star" by her colleagues.

In the months leading up to her death she began to worry about her safety after her boyfriend, Lee Harrison, had a falling out with a local drug dealer.

Harrison had been friends with Niall Barry, but three years before Ashley's death an organised crime group Harrison was affiliated with stole nearly £40,000 worth of drugs from Barry.

During the trial, Stan Reiz KC said: "They were together selling drugs. Someone from the Hillsiders had robbed Niall Barry. What was suggested was that he didn’t support Niall Barry and had been disloyal."

While this ended Harrison and Barry's friendship, Barry said in court he had "turned the other cheek."

But in June 2022 the feud was reignited after Harrison went to Glastonbury with a friend called Jordan Thompson, as well as Ashley Dale.

During the festival, a friend of Barry's, Sean Zeisz, was attacked by Jordan Thompson.

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

Lead counsel for the Crown, Paul Greaney, KC, said: "Niall Barry used these new events at Glastonbury to reignite that old feud and, as tensions simmered in Liverpool, Niall Barry made a series of threats directed towards Lee Harrison."

Ian 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.

During the time between Glastonbury and her death, Ashley Dale began sending voice messages to her friends in which she explained how worried she was about the feud between her boyfriend and Barry.

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 my shoulder all the time.”

Ashley would continue to send voice messages until the day of her death, and prosecutors said they were crucial when it came to bringing her killers to justice.

According to the prosecution, on 20 August Niall Barry dispatched James Witham and Joseph Peers to kill Lee Harrison and "anyone who got in the way".

Sean Zeisz and Barry were directing the hit from a flat on Pilch Lane, Huyton.

Around 11:40pm, Witham and Peers both approached Ashley's white Volkswagen T-Roc car and slashed its tyres and set off its alarm hoping it would lure Lee Harrison out of the house.

However, Harrison was not in the house. It is thought that Ashley Dale assumed heavy rain had set off the alarm and decided to stay inside.

At 12:30am, Witham kicked in the door. Ashley screamed and fled towards the back door but Witham pursued her.

The prosecution say a neighbour heard Ashley scream "get the f*** out".

Ashley Dale and her dachshund Darla in a photograph taken less than an hour before her death. Credit: Merseyside Police

He fired 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.

When police arrived, they found Ashley's phone just feet away from her body with which she attempted to call Harrison for help.

According to prosecutors, during the police investigation Harrison was "uncooperative" after Ashley Dale's death.

He changed his number 12 hours after she was murdered, and eventually traveled to Spain.

Mr Greaney said: “You might find that surprising, but sadly it reflects the generally uncooperative approach that Lee Harrison has adopted to the investigation into his partner’s brutal murder.

"That probably reflects the world of criminality in which he appears to have been involved."

In the days following 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.

All three men, along with Sean Zeisz, were charged with murder and pleaded not guilty.

James Witham did admit to manslaughter, but claimed he never meant to kill Ashley Dale and only "intended to give a warning".

Barry rejected the suggestion that Witham had been working for him, but he told the court he was dealing in drugs with values of tens of thousands of pounds.

(left to right) Ashley Dales' sister, mother Julie Dale, stepfather Rob Jones and father Steve Dunne. Credit: PA Images

On Friday 17 November, the jury retired to consider a verdict, and returned to court three days later, Monday 20 November.

Upon returning, they announced they had found all four men guilty of murder and conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison. They were also all found guilty of conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, a Skorpion submachine gun, and ammunition.

Also on trial were Ian Fitzgibbon and Kallum Radford. Both men were cleared of all charges.

The four guilty men will be sentenced on Wednesday 23 November.

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