Four individuals have been found guilty of the murder of 28-year-old environmental health officer Ashley Dale, who was fatally shot in her home in Old Swan, Liverpool. The attack occurred during the early hours of August 21 last year, when gunman James Witham, 41, forcibly entered her residence and fired 10 rounds from a machine gun. One of the bullets struck Ms. Dale in the abdomen, while five others struck an upstairs bedroom wall.
While James Witham admitted to manslaughter, a jury at Liverpool Crown Court also convicted him of murder. Joseph Peers, 29, described as a “foot soldier,” was also found guilty of murder. The prosecution alleged that Peers had driven a Hyundai to the scene and had earlier assisted Witham in puncturing the tires of Ms. Dale’s car to lure out its occupants.
Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, were likewise convicted of murder after evidence suggested they had orchestrated and encouraged the killing. The feud leading to the murder was linked to Ms. Dale’s boyfriend, Lee Harrison, and Barry, which had reignited when Zeisz was assaulted at the Glastonbury festival in the same year.
Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, accused of organizing or encouraging the murder, was acquitted of murder charges. Kallum Radford, 26, was also found not guilty of assisting an offender by helping to store the car used in the murder.
Emotions ran high in the courtroom as verdicts were announced, with some family members of the defendants leaving in tears. Ms. Dale’s mother, Julie, broke down in tears when the first guilty verdict was returned.
During the trial, the jury heard voicenotes recorded by Ms. Dale herself, describing the ongoing feud between her partner and Barry. The phone, discovered near her body in the back garden, had been used in her final moments to make an unsuccessful call to Mr. Harrison, who was not at home at the time of the murder.
The feud between Lee Harrison and Barry had started approximately three years prior to the shooting when Harrison sided with the Hillside organized crime group, which had allegedly stolen drugs from Barry. The prosecution argued that the feud was reignited when both individuals attended the Glastonbury festival in June of the same year.
Following the murder, Witham and Peers fled to a hotel in St Helens before traveling to Scotland, while Barry was arrested at a golf resort in Formby after making plans to leave the country.
Julie Dale expressed her grief, stating that there could never be true justice for her, and that the only justice would have been to prevent the tragedy. She hopes that the convictions bring some solace to her family and friends.
Chief Constable Serena Kennedy expressed her hope that the convictions provide “some small comfort” to the Dale family and urged those convicted to reflect on the devastating consequences of their actions. Witham, Peers, and Barry were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, a Skorpion sub-machine gun, and ammunition. Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m.