Council worker screamed and ran before fatal shooting, court hears

A woman screamed and attempted to run for her life before being shot with a machine gun in her own home following a “dangerous feud”, a court has heard.

Environmental health worker Ashley Dale, 28, was hit in the abdomen by a bullet when gunman James Witham, 41, kicked down the door of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, on August 21 last year, Liverpool Crown Court heard on Thursday.

On the opening day of the trial of five men accused of her murder, the jury was told the shooting came after a feud was reignited following a row at Glastonbury music festival in June 2022.

Paul Greaney KC, prosecuting, said that on August 20 all five defendants – Niall Barry, 26, Sean Zeisz, 28, Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, Joseph Peers, 29, and Witham – were together in a flat on Pilch Lane in Huyton, described as the “centre of operations”.

Ashley Dale death court case
Ashley Dale’s sister (who has requested not to be named), mother Julie Dale and stepfather Rob Jones arrive at Liverpool Crown Court (Peter Byrne/PA)

Miss Dale, whose family members wiped away tears at times during the opening, was at the couple’s home on Leinster Road with her dog on the night of the attack, while Mr Harrison was out.

Mr Greaney said that at about 11.40pm three tyres on Miss Dale’s car were slashed in what he suggested was an attempt to lure the occupant of the house outside in order to kill them.

But, he told the jury: “She stayed inside where she no doubt felt safe.”

The court heard the killers returned to the house just before 12.30am and Witham “booted in” the front door.

Mr Greaney said: “When Ashley Dale saw James Witham, she screamed, she shouted ‘get the f*** out’ and she attempted to run for her life.

“She fled, pursued by James Witham, into the dining room in a desperate attempt to reach the back door.

“As she did so James Witham opened fire with the sub-machine gun.”

The jury was told Witham admitted the manslaughter of Miss Dale but said he shot her by accident, having gone to “send a message” to Mr Harrison following a dispute about drug dealing in North Wales.

Voice notes recorded by Miss Dale in the weeks before her death were played to the jury, in which she described “terrible anxiety” following the row which started at Glastonbury.

Ashley Dale death
Ashley Dale was shot dead in Liverpool (Family handout/PA)

Zeisz was assaulted at the festival and his then girlfriend, Olivia McDowell, stayed with one of his attackers, Jordan Thompson, along with Miss Dale and Mr Harrison, compounding Zeisz’s “loss of face”, Mr Greaney said.

He added that in the weeks that followed sides were taken in what became a “dangerous feud” and Barry sided with Zeisz as he already had a “long-standing antagonism” towards Mr Harrison.

Mr Greaney said: “Niall Barry used these new events at Glastonbury to reignite that old feud.”

The court heard that in the aftermath of Miss Dale’s murder, Witham and Peers travelled to Scotland and Fitzgibbon left for Dubai but was later arrested in Spain.

Barry was arrested at a hotel in Formby with a bag of cash and his passport, intending to flee the country, Mr Greaney said.

Witham, of Huyton; Fitzgibbon, of St Helens; Zeisz of Huyton; Barry of Tuebrook; and Peers of Roby – all Merseyside – deny Miss Dale’s murder.

All five also deny conspiracy to murder Mr Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, a Skorpion sub-machine gun, and ammunition.

A sixth defendant, Kallum Radford, 25, of no fixed address, denies assisting an offender.

The trial will continue on Monday.

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