Four men have been found guilty of murdering a council worker shot dead in her own home.
James Witham, 41, Joseph Peers, 29, Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, were all convicted at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday over the killing of 28-year-old Ashley Dale following a seven-week trial.
Ms Dale was killed when gunman Witham broke into her home in Old Swan, Liverpool and fired a Skorpion sub-machine gun in the early hours of 21 August last year. The council environmental health worker was found with a gunshot wound in her back garden.
Witham, Peers, Barry and Zeisz were also convicted of conspiracy to murder Ms Dale’s partner Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, a Skorpion sub-machine gun, and ammunition.
Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, was found not guilty of the three charges.
A sixth defendant, Kallum Radford, 26, was cleared of assisting an offender by helping to store the Hyundai used in the killing.
Gunman Witham, who previously admitted the manslaughter of Ms Dale, claimed he fired the shots as a “warning” to Ms Dale’s partner Lee Harrison, and denied knowing that anyone was in the house at the time.
The prosecution alleged Witham was driven to the scene by fellow “foot soldier” Peers, while Peers told the jury he was at home with his parents watching boxing at the time.
Barry, Zeisz and Fitzgibbon stood accused of organising and encouraging the murder, which is said to have happened after a feud between Barry and Mr Harrison was re-ignited when Zeisz was assaulted at the Glastonbury festival in June 2022.
All five men were together in a flat in Pilch Lane in Huyton, Merseyside, on the evening of August 20 before Witham and Peers left shortly after 10pm, the court heard during the trial.
Voice recordings made by Ms Dale before her death were played to the court in which she described her “terrible anxiety” and told friends Barry – who had fallen out with Mr Harrison several years before over the theft of £40,000 worth of cocaine – was “on some pure rampage”.
Barry denied being the leader of an organised crime group as he told the court he was dealing in drugs with values of tens of thousands of pounds but rejected the suggestion that Witham had been working for him.
Cross-examining him, Paul Greaney KC, prosecuting, asked Barry: “You commissioned the attack in your role as leader of an organised crime group that dealt in drugs and had access to firearms?”
Barry replied: “I’m not the leader of no organised crime group and I’ve got no authority to send anyone to anyone’s house and I never would and I didn’t. That’s the truth.”
However, Barry did admit to threatening Ms Dale’s boyfriend in the month before her death.
Barry told the court he had phoned Mr Harrison after Witham said Mr Harrison had mentioned Barry’s name in an argument about the theft of drugs.
Asked what he said to Mr Harrison during the phone call, Barry told the court: “I said ‘I’ll come round the estate and I’ll punch your head in’.”
In his closing speech at Liverpool Crown Court, Paul Greaney KC, prosecuting, said Witham was attempting to be the “fall guy” for his co-defendants and is lying to get them “out of it”.
Meanwhile, Richard Pratt KC, defending Witham, told the jury in his closing speech that the shooting of Ms Dale was an “act of reckless madness” but not a targeted attack.
Barry told the court he asked Whitham “why the f*** have you done this” after hearing of the shooting.
The court had heard Witham fired shots in the dining room and into the kitchen downstairs in the property and fired five shots into the wall of an upstairs spare bedroom.
Whitham said the last year has been “torture” for him as he thought about what he had “done to that poor girl”. He told the court: “I haven’t slept for a year. I have nightmares every time I go to sleep.”
All five denied Ms Dale’s murder as well as conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, a Skorpion sub-machine gun, and ammunition.
Mr Radford denied assisting an offender by helping to store the Hyundai used in the killing.
More follows on this breaking story…