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Woman shot dead with machine gun in revenge attack over assault at Glastonbury Festival, jury told

Ashley Dale, 28, was hit in the abdomen by a bullet fired inside her home in Liverpool

Eleanor Barlow
Friday 06 October 2023 06:21 BST
Ashley Dale’s family members arrive at court for trial of men accused of her murder

A woman was “mercilessly” shot dead with a sub-machine gun by a “foot soldier” ordered to send a message to her boyfriend after a fight at Glastonbury Festival reignited a feud, a court has heard.

Council worker Ashley Dale, 28, was hit in the abdomen by a bullet fired inside her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, on 21 August last year – but it was her partner, Lee Harrison, who was the real target of the attack.

Opening the trial of five men accused of her murder at Liverpool Crown Court on Thursday, Paul Greaney KC said: “There can, suggests the prosecution, be no doubt that Ashley’s death was murder. She was shot deliberately and, indeed, mercilessly by a man who entered her home intending to kill.”

He told the court Miss Dale had attended Glastonbury Festival in June that year with her boyfriend Mr Harrison.

Four of the men accused of her murder – Sean Zeisz, 28, Niall Barry, 26, Ian Fitzgibbon, 28 and James Witham, 41 – were also there.

The jury heard Zeisz was assaulted at the festival and his attackers included a man called Jordan Thompson. Following the assault, Zeisz’s girlfriend, Olivia McDowell, stayed with Mr Thompson, Miss Dale and Mr Harrison, compounding Zeisz’s “loss of face”, Mr Greaney said.

The court heard that in the following weeks, Barry sided with Zeisz as he already had a “longstanding antagonism” towards Mr Harrison, who Mr Greaney said appeared to be involved in a “world of criminality”.

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

He said that on 20 August, Fitzgibbon, Zeisz and Barry sent “foot soldiers” Witham and the fifth defendant – Joseph Peers, 29 – armed with a Skorpion sub-machine gun to kill Mr Harrison at his home and “to deal with anyone that got in their way, leaving behind no witnesses”.

Police investigating the fatal shooting of Ashley Dale in Liverpool on 21 August (Jason Roberts/PA) (PA Wire)

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

The jury was told Witham admitted the manslaughter of Miss Dale, but said he shot her by accident in the early hours of 21 August having gone to “send a message” to Mr Harrison following a dispute about drug dealing in North Wales.

Mr Greaney said: “It was James Witham who forced the front door to Leinster Road, James Witham who entered the house and James Witham who proceeded to open fire on Ashley, shooting and killing her.

Ashley Dale was killed at her home in Liverpool (Family/PA) (PA Media)

“James Witham then walked upstairs and into a bedroom, where he fired five bullets into the wall. He did that, the prosecution suggests, to send a firm message to Lee Harrison. That message was that he, Lee Harrison, had been the principal target of this attack and he too should be dead, along with Ashley.”

The court heard Peers allegedly drove the gunman to the address in a Hyundai.

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 Lee 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.

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