A GANG of thugs have been found guilty of murdering a council worker who was shot dead in a revenge hit on her boyfriend.
Ashley Dale, 28, was “deliberately and mercilessly” blasted with a Skorpion sub-machine gun in a cold-blooded killing in August last year.
Ashley Dale was murdered at her home in a revenge warCredit: PA
Gunman James Witham (pictured) shot Ashley dead at her home
Witham fled the scene of the shooting with “foot soldier” Joseph Peers (pictured), 28, leaving stricken Ashley to die
Niall Barry, 26, has been found guilty of murder
Sean Zeisz, 28, has been convicted of murder for his role in the shooting
Her boyfriend Lee Harrison, pictured right with Sean Zeisz and Niall Barry, was the intended targetCredit: PA
The council worker had screamed “get the f**k out” at gunman James Witham as she attempted to “run for her life” after he forced open the door of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool.
Ashley managed to stagger into her back garden where she collapsed after a bullet, one of 10 fired by Witham in the dining room of the property, tore through her abdomen causing “catastrophic” damage.
Witham then fired a further five bullets into the wall of an upstairs bedroom – a “firm message” to her boyfriend Lee Harrison.
The chilling crux of the warning was Lee had been the “principle target” of the attack and should be lying dead alongside his partner.
Witham, 41, Niall Barry, 26, Sean Zeisz, 28, and Joseph Peers, 28, have today been convicted of murder.
They 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, who was also accused of organising or encouraging the killing, was found not guilty of murder.
Kallum Radford, 26, was acquitted of assisting an offender after he was accused of helping to store the car used in the murder.
Some family members of the defendants left the court in tears after verdicts were returned.
Ashley’s mum Julie, 46, cried as the jury returned the first guilty verdict at around 2.30pm.
During a harrowing seven-week trial, Liverpool Crown Court heard tensions had boiled over after “trouble broke out” at Glastonbury in June 2022.
Barry’s feud with Mr Harrison, who did not co-operate with police after his girlfriend’s death, started around three years before the shooting.
Mr Harrison was said to have sided with the Hillside organised crime group after they allegedly stole drugs from Barry.
The feud was then re-ignited when Zeisz was assaulted at Glastonbury last year.
Ashley and Lee had attended the festival, as well as Zeisz, Barry – nicknamed “Branch” – Fitzgibbon and Witham.
Another group was also present that Lee, who has never helped towards the case, had an “association” with.
One of the members of that gang, Jordan “Dusty” Thompson, attacked Zeisz because the killer had been “arguing” with everyone.
This “deeply humiliating” attack had “reignited” a feud between his gang and Harrison that left Ashley fearing the worst.
Just weeks before her death, she told a pal: “I am looking over my shoulder all the time.”
On the night of August 21 last year, Lee had gone out with pals leaving Ashley alone in the house with their dog.
The same evening, Witham and Peers arrived at her property in a Hyundai.
Her killers at first made an attempt to lure her outside by slashing the tyres of her Volkswagen T-ROC to trigger an alarm.
But Ashley sent a text at this time saying she believed the rain had set it off so she stayed inside where she was safe, or “so she no doubt thought”.
As she continued messaging Lee about the alarm, he told her: “Hahahaha you think you’re in a horror movie”.
When she failed to respond, he asked “are you ok?” followed by: “Alive?”
Ashley replied: “No, I’m dead”.
Just moments later, Witham kicked the front door in to “kill [Harrison] and deal with anyone that got in their way”.
She was then pursued by the gunman, who opened fire as she desperately tried to flee.
Tragically, she was found lying on the ground in her back garden “groaning in pain”.
When police arrived, Witham had fled with Peers and stricken Ashley could not be saved.
Witham, who has admitted manslaughter, claimed he “never saw or heard Ashley” and said he shot her by accident.
He also moaned during his evidence that last year had been “torture” for him.
The gunman was snared by the brand new On Cloudflow trainers he had bought, which left a distinctive footprint on the front door he kicked in.
A bullet casing containing his DNA was also found under the bed at Ashley’s home that was a “one in a billion” match.
The tragedy came just seven years after Ashley’s brother Lewis Dunne was killed by drug dealers aged just 16.
He was also not the intended target of the shooting in a cruel echo of her killing.
The horror also unfolded just 48 hours before nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel was shot dead at her home in the city.
In the days following the shooting, Witham and Peers stayed in a hotel in St Helens before travelling to Scotland.
Barry, meanwhile, was arrested at a golf resort in Formby after making plans to flee the country.
Following Ashley’s death, her heartbroken family said: “None of this makes sense and our lives will never be the same again.
“A senseless crime that has torn a family apart.”
Her devastated mum today blamed her daughter’s boyfriend for her murder.
The four killers will be sentenced at 11am on Wednesday.
Speaking after the convictions today, 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.
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.
“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.”
Ashley took this photo with her dog shortly before the murderCredit: PA
The killers had attempted to lure her outside by slashing her tyresCredit: PA
A bullet casing was found under her bed that matched Witham’s DNBA
Witham kicked Ashley’s door in and opened fire
He and Joseph Peers checked into the Mercure to have a swim and sauna after the killingCredit: Merseyside Police
Ashley had told how she was looking over hr shoulder before her deathCredit: Facebook
She died after a bullet tore through her stomachCredit: PA