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Ashley Dale
Dale was killed when Witham kicked down the door of her house and shot her in August 2022. Photograph: Merseyside Police/PA
Dale was killed when Witham kicked down the door of her house and shot her in August 2022. Photograph: Merseyside Police/PA

Four men found guilty of murdering Ashley Dale in Liverpool

James Witham, Joseph Peers, Niall Barry and Sean Zeisz convicted over killing of 28-year-old at her home

Four men have been found guilty of the murder of a Liverpool woman who was shot dead in her home last year.

James Witham, 41, Joseph Peers, 29, Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, have been found guilty at Liverpool crown court of the murder of 28-year-old Ashley Dale.

Dale, a council environmental health worker, was killed when Witham kicked down the door of her house in the Old Swan area of Liverpool and shot her in the abdomen on 21 August 2022.

The court heard how the murder was planned and carried out by the four men, who were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder her boyfriend, Lee Harrison.

Harrison, who was in a long-running feud with one of Dale’s killers that was reignited during a fight at Glastonbury festival that year, was not at the address when Dale was shot.

A fifth man, Ian Fitzgibbon, was cleared of killing Dale and all other charges relating to the murder, while a sixth man, Kallum Radford, was found not guilty of assisting an offender.

The court heard Dale describe the falling out between Harrison and Barry in voice notes she recorded on her phone and sent to friends in the two months before her murder.

The messages detailed how Dale became increasingly terrified and that she was suffering what she described as “terrible anxiety” over the feud. She told friends she was “constantly looking over me shoulder” for Barry, who was on “some pure rampage”.

The phone, which was recovered next to where Dale was found in her back yard, had been used in her final moments to try to call Harrison, who was out with friends while she spent the night at home, watching television with her dachshund Darla.

The trial heard that Barry’s feud with Harrison, who did not cooperate with police after Dale’s death, started about three years before the shooting when Harrison sided with the Hillside organised crime group after it allegedly stole drugs from Barry.

The feud was reignited when both men attended the Glastonbury festival in June 2022, the prosecution alleged, where a fight broke out involving the Hillsiders and two of Dale’s killers, Barry and Zeisz.

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 Harrison during the festival.

In the days after 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.

Dale’s family said her death meant their lives would never be the same again. Her mother, Julie Dale, said: “In my eyes, there’ll never be justice for me.

“The only justice would have been that this wouldn’t have happened. At least I can rest assured now knowing that these people are going to pay for what they’ve done.”

Her stepfather, Rob Jones, said it would be difficult for her family to move on. He said: “You can’t rebuild. People say rebuild your life – you can’t rebuild something with the most integral part of it missing. It’s finding a new life, it’s what’s going to be the new thing. We don’t know. That’s probably the biggest thing, as we look forward, which concerns us, scares us, what is life going to be now.”

The senior investigating officer, DCI Cath Cummings, said it had been a “complex and challenging investigation” built through voice notes and messages on Dale’s phone and helped by information from the community.

She said: “The four men who have been found guilty have not shown an ounce of remorse for their actions which led to Ashley’s death and instead pleaded not guilty, forcing her family to endure a lengthy trial where they have had to relive Ashley’s last moments over and over again. I am pleased that the jury saw through their blatant lies and how they conspired together.”

Witham, of Huyton, Peers, of Roby, and Barry, of Tuebrook, were also convicted of conspiracy to murder Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon – a Skorpion submachine gun – and ammunition.

Fitzgibbon, of St Helens, was cleared of those charges.

Sentencing will take place on Wednesday morning.

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