Ashley Dale's killers jailed for minimum of 173 years over machine gun murder

Ashley Dale, 28, was shot dead in August last year when a gunman burst into her home and opened fire.
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Four men have been sentenced to a total of 173 years behind bars for the murder of council worker Ashley Dale, who was gunned down with a Skorpion sub-machine gun in her home in Liverpool.

Ms Dale, 28, was killed when a gunman burst into her house on Leinster Road, Old Swan, in the early hours of August 21 last year and opened fire. She was found in the back garden with a fatal gunshot wound.

Ms Dale's boyfriend, Lee Harrison, had been the intended target of the attack after a dispute at Glastonbury Festival had reignited a feud. Harrison, who was described in court as a drug dealer at odds with a rival gang, was not there at the time of the attack.

On Monday (November 20), a jury found James Witham, Sean Zeisz, Niall Barry and Joseph Peers guilty of her murder, conspiring to murder Mr Harrison and possession of a prohibited weapon, following a seven-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court. The four men returned to court on Wednesday (November 22) to face sentencing.

Sentencing for 'execution' style murder

Sentencing began at around 11.15am on Wednesday (November 22) and all four men were present. The prosecution described the murder as an 'execution' and said there were no mitigating factors.

After hearing the victim personal statement of Ashley Dale's mother, Julie Dale, Witham left the dock and returned shortly after.

Ms Dale said: "People speak about justice for Ashley but in my eyes there will never be justice, the only justice is that this would never have happened. Although I can now rest knowing that you monsters are going to pay for what you have done to me and my family. And that you too have ruined your own lives and your family’s lives. I hope my words haunt you all forever and you James Witham; I hope when you go to sleep at night you too see my baby girl’s face as I do every single night."

Delivering the sentences at around 12.25pm, Mr Justice Goose said he found 'no significant mitigating factors' adding, the starting point of 30 years 'must be adjusted upwards substantially'.

Mr Justice Goose commended senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Cath Cummings for her work and noted that Ms Dale's family's statements were 'truly remarkable'.

  • Sean Zeisz, 28, of Longreach Road in Huyton, was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 42 years for murder.
  • Niall Barry, 26, of Moscow Drive in Tuebrook, was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 47 years for murder.
  • Joseph Peers, 29, of Woodlands Road in Roby, was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 41 years for murder.
  • James Witham, 41, of Ashbury Road,  Huyton, was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 43 years for murder.

The trial

During the trial, The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the four men were 'intent' on killing Ashley Dale’s boyfriend, Lee Harrison, after a dispute at the Glastonbury Festival in June 2022 had reignited a feud over alleged stolen drugs.

The court heard that the men worked together to plan and execute a shooting and that all of the defendants had been together in a flat in Huyton on the evening of August 20 before "foot soldiers" Witham and Peers left shortly after 10.00pm to carry out the shooting.

Ashley and dad Steve. Photo: Family handout.Ashley and dad Steve. Photo: Family handout.
Ashley and dad Steve. Photo: Family handout.

Gunman James Witham forced open the front door to Ms Dale's house, armed with a Skorpion sub-machine gun, however, Harrison, who was described in court as a drug dealer at odds with a rival gang, was not there.

The CPS said Ms Dale screamed at Witham to get out, but he pursued her, shooting ten bullets in her direction. One bullet hit Ms Dale and fatally wounded her.

Despite being the principal target, Harrison did not assist with the police investigation and Ms Dale's own mobile phone proved crucial in bringing the men to justice.

A series of WhatsApp voice notes from Glastonbury Festival to the day of her death detailed Ms Dale's increasing anxiety, including the fear that Barry would go to her house.

Senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Cath Cummings explained: “The most significant was the evidence recovered was from Ashley‘s phone which was recovered just an arm’s-length away from her. The sheer volume of data contained on this device meant that an intense attention to detail was required.

Ashley and her dog at Sefton Park. Photo: Handout.Ashley and her dog at Sefton Park. Photo: Handout.
Ashley and her dog at Sefton Park. Photo: Handout.

"For me as a senior investigating officer, this was the most compelling and emotional part of the case. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen evidence of the murder victim play such a crucial role in a court case. Ashley was narrating her own story and events that led up to her death. There was a barely is a dry eye in the court room as her increased fear and anxiety was played out from recovered voice notes from her phone."

She added: “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."