A witness in the Ashley Dale murder trial has been branded “a grass” in graffiti daubed around Liverpool.
Ashley, 28, was shot dead in her own home on Leinster Road in Old Swan in the early hours of August 21 last year.
James Witham, Joseph Peers, Niall Barry and Sean Zeisz have been on trial at Liverpool Crown Court accused of the council worker's murder, and were unanimously convicted by a jury on Monday, November 20.
They were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder Ms Dale's boyfriend Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, namely a Skorpion submachine gun, and ammunition with intent to endanger life.
Graffiti appeared around the city labelling Ian Fitzgibbon a "snitch" after he gave evidence to the court from the witness box.
Fitzgibbon was cleared of these three charges while a sixth defendant, Kallum Radford, was acquitted of assisting an offender.
A message emblazoned in white paint on a wall running along Muirhead Avenue East, near to the entrance to Croxteth Hall Country Park, read "Ian Fits grass".
Meanwhile, one image circulated on WhatsApp, showed a previous mugshot of his mocked up alongside the word "Snitchgibbon".
It came after Fitzgibbon claimed on the witness box that co-defendant Niall Barry had pulled out a knife to him at Glastonbury Festival and threatened to "stab up" Ashley's boyfriend Lee Harrison.
His legal team attempted to have the emergence of the graffiti put before the jury as evidence.
In an argument on admissibility heard in the absence of jurors on Thursday, November 9, defence junior Jamie Baxter referenced another message having been left on a roundabout at the junction of Green Lane and West Derby Road and said: "It goes to his credibility and concern.
"He said 'I feared being labelled a grass, about Glastonbury and speaking to the police'.
"Put simply, here, we have evidence of his fears."He described fears at a different part of his evidence.
"One was being called a grass for telling the police what he was told day after."He also made reference to it about others parts of evidence.
"In particular, what happened at Glastonbury.
"It does show his fears were credible.
"It is not just an excuse."Here we have credible fears, and his fears have borne true.
"I accept that, at the time he left the country, he could not have known the outcome."He has been so labelled. It does go to genuineness of his fears."There is every possibility that a juror or someone connected may see it.
"It is in a very busy area of Liverpool."It is not tucked away on an estate somewhere.
"It is on a through way, but I don't think it changes the relevance."Barry's counsel Stanley Reiz KC opposed the application, telling the court: "It may be that the status of this graffiti isn't different to a comment made on social media, it is potentially contempt of court.
"There is a risk the jury will speculate why the graffiti was put there and the motive of the person who put it there."Paul Greaney KC also objected on behalf of the prosecution, saying: "The test is relevance.
"We are highly dubious."And trial judge Mr Justice Goose ultimately found the evidence was inadmissible.
He said in his ruling: "This is an application made on behalf of Ian Fitzgibbon by Mr Baxter."Essentially, the submission is that, after the evidence of Ian Fitzgibbon - during which he identified one of his co-accused as having made a threat to him about Lee Harrison and produced a knife - that evening, after he completed his evidence, some graffiti appeared in Liverpool on a roundabout, indicating that somebody had formed the view that Ian Fitzgibbon was a grass.
"It is submitted on his behalf that photographs of this should go before the jury."He feared he would be called a grass, which is why he left the UK to go to Dubai and Spain, remaining for almost a year before he was extradited back to the UK.
"Objection is taken on behalf of Mr Barry."He raises arguments this is not relevant evidence.
"The prosecution are equally in opposition."I am satisfied that this evidence does not have relevance."
Ian Fitzgibbon explained that he left the UK within two days of the shooting in order to avoid repercussions for him or his family by the fact that he may be associated with those others."He did not know as he left that after he had given his evidence, somebody might call him a grass.
"This evidence cannot be relevant to why he left the country or his fears."To suggest that because it has happened now makes credible what he thought at an earlier time misses the point, with respect.
"Accordingly, this application is refused."Mr Greaney told jurors during the prosecution's opening last month that gunman Witham and "driver" Peers, were "dispatched" to Leinster Road to assassinate Harrison and "leave no witnesses".
They had allegedly received their orders from Barry, Zeisz and Fitzgibbon - who were said to have been "directing operations" from a flat on Pilch Lane in Huyton.The court heard that, at around 11.40pm on August 20 2022, two men approached Ashley’s white Volkswagen T-Roc car - which was parked outside the house - and slashed its tyres, causing the alarm to sound, in an effort to "lure" the occupants out.
But it is thought Ashley believed the alarm had been set off by heavy rain and, as a result, did not leave her home, where she was spending the evening alone with her dachshund Darla.Mr Greaney said: "The men who had damaged the car were not deterred. Fifty minutes later, at about 12.30am, they returned."This time, they were not to be diverted from their intention to kill. One of the men approached the front door of 40 Leinster Road and he kicked it in."Ashley plainly became aware of what was happening. She screamed and fled towards the back door of the house, but the man entered the house and he pursued her."He was armed with a machine gun and opened fire. Ashley was struck by a bullet - it passed through her abdomen, causing catastrophic damage."Mr Greaney said that "certain events at Glastonbury Festival" in June 2022 had "played an important part" in the alleged motive behind the attack, adding: "Ashley Dale and Lee Harrison, her boyfriend, attended the festival, as did at least four of the defendants - Sean Zeisz, Niall Barry, Ian Fitzgibbon and James Witham.
"A group of other young men from Liverpool were also present, one of whom was a person called Jordan Thompson - who was known as Dusty."Lee Harrison seems to have had an association with the group of which Dusty was part. Whilst at the festival, Sean Zeisz was assaulted, and his attackers included Jordan Thompson."This attack appears to have occurred because Sean Zeisz was, as it was later expressed, arguing with everyone for Niall Barry - who was known as Branch.
"To compound the loss of face for Sean Zeisz, in the aftermath of the assault his girlfriend - a woman called Olivia, known as Liv, McDowell - stayed with the group of which Jordan Thompson, Lee Harrison and Ashley Dale were part."It is clear that Sean Zeisz felt deeply humiliated from what had happened at Glastonbury."The court also heard that Barry then sided with Zeisz, with this "fresh" dispute having compounded a "separate and longstanding antagonism towards Lee Harrison", who was not present at the time of the attack.
The suicide of Rikki Warnick, who had apparently been "bullied" by Thompson before his death, was also said to have increased tensions between the two factions.Mr Greaney 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."Witham, of Ashbury Road in Huyton, admitted having barged down the door of Ashley's home and spraying the property with bullets using a Skorpion submachine gun.
But the 41-year-old claimed he did not see or hear Ashley inside and was instead attempting to "send a message" to Harrison, with whom he had supposedly been in dispute with over drug dealing in North Wales.He denied having plotted with others to arrange the shooting beforehand, stating that he had decided to discharge the gun at the address, which he said he believed was empty, on the spur of the moment while drunk and high on cocaine.
Witham maintained that he had found the weapon buried in Stadt Moers Park, having learned of its existence after speaking to a pair of brothers called "Big Dave and Little Dave" while at the Everton v Nottingham Forest match on the afternoon of August 20.Peers, 29, of Woodlands Road in Roby, meanwhile told the court he had been at home watching a fight between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk on the television with his dad at the time of the shooting.
Barry, aged 26 and of Moscow Drive in Tuebrook, 28-year-old Zeisz, of Longreach Road in Huyton, and 28-year-old Fitzgibbon, of Heigham Gardens in St Helens, also said they had been watching the boxing in the Pilch Lane flat and had no knowledge of any plan to attack Leinster Road.Radford, of Trentham Road in Kirkby, was accused of making arrangements for the Hyundai i30N Performance used in the shooting to be stored at an address in St Helens in the aftermath of the incident.
But the 26-year-old claimed to be unaware that the car had been used in connection with any crime.