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Four men have been sentenced for the shooting murder of Ashley Dale in Liverpool, with the gunman ordered to serve at least 43 years in jail.
The 28-year-old was hit when James Witham burst into her home and began firing after a feud with her boyfriend.
His accomplices Niall Barry, 26, Sean Zeisz, 28, and Joseph Peers, 29, must serve prison sentences of at least 47, 42 and 41 years respectively.
Ms Dale’s mother called the killers “monsters” in an emotional statement.
Julie Dale said: “I hope you all understand that I will never ever forgive you for the life sentence you have given to me and my family.
“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.”
The prosecution described the killing as “an execution”.
In a statement read to the court, Ms Dale’s father Steven Dunne said he had been “confined to a nightmare” and “history was repeating itself” as his teenage son was also shot dead seven years ago.
He said: “I am now sitting with my one remaining child, having been put through the trauma of yet another trial, listening to those verdicts being read out in relation to Ashley’s murder.
“I have lost another child. A victim of big egos running around the city with powerful guns, involved in petty feuds and killing innocent people.”
The trial at Liverpool Crown Court heard how Ms Dale’s partner, Lee Harrison, who was not in the house at the time, had been the intended target of the shooting in August 2022.
A feud with Barry over the theft of drugs had been reignited at Glastonbury festival in June that year.
During the festival, Barry was heard threatening to stab Mr Harrison and Zeisz was assaulted by a group said to include Jordan Thompson – a friend of Mr Harrison’s and member of the Hillside organised crime group with which he was associated.
Ms Dale, an environmental health officer, was killed when Witham, of Ashbury Road, Huyton, forced open the door of her home in the Old Swan area and began firing a Skorpion submachine gun.
Barry, of Moscow Drive, Tuebrook, was described by the prosecution as a “malign presence” behind the killing.
Zeisz, 28, of Longreach Road, Huyton, was found to have organised and encouraged the attack with Barry.
Peers, of Woodlands Road, Roby, was described in court as a “foot soldier” who drove Witham to the scene and earlier helped Witham to stab tyres on Ms Dale’s car in an attempt to lure the couple out of the house.
The court heard how in the final months of her life Ms Dale had voiced her mounting fears and anxieties in voice notes to her friends.
These messages proved instrumental in convicting those responsible, with some of the voice notes sent just 30 minutes before she was shot dead.
The court heard Mr Harrison had been “totally uncooperative” with police ever since his girlfriend’s murder.
Ms Dale’s mother Julie said “time had stood still” since her daughter’s death.
“That day I not only lost my daughter, but my best friend. The night we got that dreaded knock that no parent or family should ever have to get,” she said.
“Ashley’s two younger sisters were sleeping peacefully in their beds upstairs. Then the reality set in, that I was going to have to tell them, their big sister they so adored was no longer here.
“No act or person deserves to die – but this I will never ever begin to understand or accept how this could have happened to my perfect beautiful girl, who had her whole life ahead of her.”
James Witham gave police a false name when he was held by officers
Knowsley Council said she was a “very popular” member of staff and had recently been promoted.
A spokeswoman said: “She was eager to learn and develop, and genuinely enjoyed helping people. She had her whole life ahead of her. Our thoughts remain with her family, friends and colleagues.”
“Take them down”
Det Ch Insp Cath Cummings, of Merseyside Police, described Ms Dale’s murder as “brutal and senseless” in the “safest place she thought she would be, her home”.
“As James Witham stormed into Ashley’s home that night, wearing a balaclava, firing from a Skorpion sub-machine gun, he took away Ashley, an ambitious, bubbly, charismatic, young woman. The community rocked, her family and friends left devastated.”
She praised Ms Dale’s family for their “immense courage and composure” while Mr Justice Julian Goose also commended them.
He said: “I have been struck by the dignity you have shown and your personal statements – they were truly remarkable.”
The judge told the men: “Each of you is a dangerous offender.
“Ashley Dale was in the prime of her life and she was gunned down in her own home where she should have been safe.”
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