Four men have been handed life sentences for murdering council worker Ashley Dale who was shot in her garden in Liverpool.
The 28-year-old’s boyfriend Lee Harrison, a drug dealer who was in a feud with a rival gang, was the intended target, Liverpool Crown Court heard.
He was not at her home in Old Swan when gunman James Witham, 41, forced open the door in the early hours of 21 August last year.
He fired 10 bullets from a Skorpion sub-machine gun into her dining room, one hitting her in the abdomen as she stood by the back door, before shooting five more into an upstairs bedroom as a warning.
Witham, Joseph Peers, 29, Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, were found guilty on Monday of murdering Ms Dale, conspiring to murder Mr Harrison and possession of a prohibited weapon and ammunition.
Witham was handed a minimum term of 43 years, while Peers, Barry and Zeisz were told they must serve 41 years, 47 years and 42 years respectively.
The judge Mr Justice Goose said the murder had “shocked both the local community and many in this country”, adding that the use of a military sub-machine gun to kill a young woman in her own home was “beyond any understanding”.
He said Ms Dale was in the “prime of her life” when Witham “wickedly fired 10 bullets” as she was “vulnerable and defenceless” in her home “where she should have been safe”.
The judge added that Mr Harrison’s refusal “to assist the police to bring her killers to justice” must have been “a cruel twist of fate” for Ms Dale’s family.
‘I will never forgive you’
He also referred to the “moving” victim impact statements from relatives including her mother, Julie Dale, 46, who told her daughter’s killers: “I hope you all understand that I will never ever forgive you, for the life sentence you have gave to me and my family.
“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.”
Ms Dale was murdered seven years after her half brother Lewis Dunne was shot dead aged 16 in a case of mistaken identity when he was caught in the middle of a gang feud.
Their father Steven Dunne said he had “instantly been confined to a living nightmare” when he found out his daughter had been shot dead.
“I remember shouting ‘no’ for a long time at the top of my voice; I couldn’t believe it – history had repeated itself,” he said.
Feud reignited at Glastonbury festival
The court heard the feud began around three years before the shooting, when Mr Harrison sided with the Hillside organised crime group after they allegedly stole drugs from Barry.
It was reignited when they both attended the Glastonbury festival in June 2022 and described by Ms Dale in voicenotes she sent to friends in the two months before her murder.
Ms Dale used her phone, recovered an arm’s length from where she was found dead in her back garden, in her final moments to try to call Mr Harrison, who was out with friends while she spent the night at home, watching television in her pyjamas with her dachshund Darla.
The court heard he has since spent time in Dubai.
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Witham admitted manslaughter but was found guilty of the more serious charge of murder along with fellow “foot soldier” Peers, who prosecutors said helped to stab the tyres on Ms Dale’s car in a bid to lure the occupants out of the house.
Jurors heard how she messaged Mr Harrison to tell him her car alarm was going off before he replied just over 20 minutes later saying: “Hahahaha you think your in a horror movie.”
“R u okay? Alive.”
At 12.07am, less than half an hour before she was shot, Ms Dale replied: “No I’m dead.”
Ms Dale’s family broke down in tears in court as the trial was shown the final messages before she died.
The court heard Barry and Zeisz organised and encouraged the murder.
In the days following Ms 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.
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