Four men have been found guilty of the murder of Ashley Dale at her home in Old Swan in August 2022.
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 on August 21.
James Witham, 41, of Huyton, had previously admitted to being the gunman who fired the fatal shot.
The four men were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder Ashley’s boyfriend Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, namely a Skorpion submachine gun, and ammunition with intent to endanger life.
Sean Zeisz, 28, of Huyton, was found guilty of the murder of Ashley Dale, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison, conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon with intent to endanger life.
Niall Barry, 26, of Tuebrook, was found guilty of the murder of Ashley Dale, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison, conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon with intent to endanger life.
Joseph Peers, 29, of Roby, was found guilty of the murder of Ashley Dale, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison, conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon with intent to endanger life.
James Witham, 41, of Huyton, was found guilty of the murder of Ashley Dale, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison, conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon with intent to endanger life.
Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, of St Helens, was found not guilty of the above offences.
A sixth man, 26-year-old Kallum Radford, of Kirkby, was found not guilty of assisting an offender.
The four men will be sentenced on Wednesday 22 November.
Senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Cath Cummings said, “The actions of James Witham on that day had a devastating and widespread impact.
“Ashley, an innocent women, lost her life in the most brutal way at the hands of Witham. That was compounded by the fact that she was alone in her own home, where she should have felt and been safe, when she was fatally shot.
“Her family have to live with that knowledge every day.
“This has been a complex and challenging investigation and it was only thanks to the painstaking work of the investigation team and the community who rallied round and pointed us in the right direction in the early stages that we were able to bring about this successful prosecution.
“The evidential material we had was significant from cell site analysis to DNA and trawling through hundreds of hours of CCTV.
“We also seized thousands of exhibits, of which over 300 were digital devices. By far the most important was Ashley’s phone and the voice notes she sent to her friends describing what was going on in her life and the lead up to her death.
“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.
“I would like to pay tribute to Ashley’s family for the dignity and composure they showed throughout the trial. These four men now face a considerable length of time behind bars and while that will never bring Ashley back I hope that, after over a year of waiting for justice, they can move to the next chapter of their lives and properly grieve their loss.
“I would like to thank the investigation team, the family liaison officers, the officers and staff of Merseyside Police and the Crown Prosecution Service and lead counsel who were all vital to ensuring we got the right result.
“I hope this sends a message that serious and organised crime will not be tolerated on the streets of Merseyside and we will hunt down the people who are responsible and put them behind bars.”
Merseyside PCC Emily Spurrell said, “I cannot begin to imagine the pain, suffering and loss Ashley Dale’s loved ones have experienced since her shocking murder in August 2022. No family should have to face the devastating heartache they have had to endure in the past fifteen months.
“Ashley was just 28 years old. She was a beautiful young woman with the rest of her life ahead of her. She was at home that night, in a place she was meant to feel safe. She was making a positive contribution to our region in her role as an environmental health officer at Knowsley Council and she’d just successfully achieved a promotion. Heartbreakingly, she never got the chance to begin her new job as her life was cut short in the most brutal and merciless way.
“No justice will ever bring Ashley back to her family. Being present in court over the last seven weeks, witnessing the heartless attempts of those four cowards to cover-up their involvement in Ashley’s murder while being forced to relive the events of that tragic night, must only have compounded their unthinkable suffering.
“Thankfully, the jury saw through those lies and while today’s guilty verdict will not end their grief and loss, I hope it will bring them some small comfort that the four individuals responsible will be spending many years behind bars for their appalling crimes.
“I would like to pay tribute to the investigation team at Merseyside Police, and the police officers and staff who supported them, for their commitment and determination to solving this case. In the hours and days following this horrendous incident, right up to today’s guilty verdict, they have been relentless in their pursuit of justice to make sure those responsible are made to for their actions. I’m also very grateful to a number of other forces who provided support.
“I’d also like to thank the people of Old Swan and the brave witnesses who through immense courage came forward with vital information to ensure these callous individuals are no longer able to spread toxicity and fear within our communities.
“Ashley’s senseless murder was the second of three fatal shootings in what was a very dark week for our city, showing that there is a still a shameful minority who occupy the gutters of our society and who are prepared to use guns with no care for the harm they inflict on others. To break into an innocent young woman’s house and fire a powerful submachine pistol is deplorable and yet these men have shown not a single shred of remorse.
“There is no place for firearms in our region. The police are relentless in their approach to tackling heartless criminals. Last year our region saw the number of gun crime incidents reduce by almost a third but even one firearm incident is one too many. I am determined to do everything I can to support the force as they continue to pursue those organised crime groups who attempt to spread fear and intimidation in communities in which they operate.
“The ongoing support of our communities is also vital in making it clear these disgusting, callous individuals will not be tolerated in our proud region. I would urge anybody, if you know where weapons are being kept or suspect who is using them then please, do the right thing and speak out. By doing so, you could play a vital role in protecting the lives of innocent people and preventing further tragedies.
“Together, we can stop those intent on causing violence and harm and make all our communities stronger and safer places to live, work and play for all.”
Image: Ashley Dale/Family handout