Ashley Dale’s killers jailed for 173 years as she wins justice from beyond grave

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    A gang of four men have been jailed for life for the heartless killing of Ashley Dale in her own home as a judge called the machine gun slaying 'beyond understanding'.

    James Witham, 41, Joseph Peers, 29, Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, were found guilty on Monday at Liverpool Crown Court of the murder of 28-year-old Ashley, who was shot in August 2022 – and they have now all been jailed for a total of 173 years.

    They were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder Ms Dale's boyfriend Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, namely a Skorpion submachine gun, and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

    Ian Fitzgibbon was cleared of these three charges while a sixth defendant, Kallum Radford, was acquitted of assisting an offender. Paul Greaney KC told jurors during the prosecution's opening last month that gunman Witham and "driver" Peers, were "dispatched" to the home to assassinate Harrison and "leave no witnesses".

    READ MORE: Ashley Dale murder verdict – four guilty of killing council worker in own home

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    Sean Zeisz was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 42 years in prison. Niall Barry got life with a minimum term of 47 years, James Witham was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 43 years and Joseph Peers got life with a minimum term of 41 years.

    Before the judge delivered his sentences, he said: "The use of a military grade submachine gun to kill a woman in her own home at night is beyond any understanding."

    He added: “Just after half past midnight, Witham got out of the car wearing a balaclava to hide his face. He broke through the locked front door, walked into the dining room.

    "Ashley was moving towards the kitchen to escape, and there were lights on so she was visible. Witham wickedly fired 10 bullets towards her as she was vulnerable and defenceless. One passed through her abdomen and killed her. Leaving her dying, James Witham went upstairs to look for Lee Harrison. he fired again into the wall.”

    They had allegedly received their orders from Barry, Zeisz and Fitzgibbon – who were said to have been "directing operations" from a flat nearby. The court heard that, at around 11.40pm on August 20, 2022, two men approached Ashley’s white Volkswagen T-Roc car – which was parked outside the house – and slashed its tyres, causing the alarm to sound, in an effort to "lure" the occupants out.

    • Ashley Dale murder verdict – four guilty of killing council worker in own home

    But it is thought Ashley believed the alarm had been set off by heavy rain and, as a result, did not leave her home, where she was spending the evening alone with her dachshund Darla. The men were undeterred by the foiled attempt and returned later and kicked the door in.

    He was armed with a machine gun and opened fire. Ashley was struck by a bullet – it passed through her abdomen, causing catastrophic damage."

    Mr Greaney said that "certain events at Glastonbury Festival" in June 2022 had "played an important part" in the alleged motive behind the attack. Witham admitted having barged down the door of Ashley's home and sprayed the property with bullets using a Skorpion submachine gun.

    But the 41-year-old claimed he did not see or hear Ashley inside and was instead attempting to "send a message" to Harrison, with whom he had supposedly been in dispute with over drug dealing in North Wales.

    • Long-running 'heavy beef' between gangs could've led to woman's sub-machine gun murder

    A series of voice notes found on Ashley's phone, dating from when she attended Glastonbury to the day of her death, were crucial in bringing her killers to justice.

    Detective Chief Inspector Cath Cummings said: “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 the evidence of the murder victim play such a crucial role in a court case. Ashley was narrating her own story and events that led to her death.

    “It’s Ashley that’s actually brought these offenders to justice because overlaying that with the evidence that we’ve been able to gather she’s told us the story herself.”

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