Council environmental worker Ashley Dale, 28, was slain when gunman James Witham, 41, kicked down her front door on August 21 last year and fired 10 bullets in her dining room.
Yesterday, drug gangsters Niall Barry, 26, Sean Zeisz, 28, James Witham, 41, and Joseph Peers, 29, were convicted of the fatal shooting, linked to a feud with her partner Lee Harrison, 26.
Liverpool Crown Court had heard Harrison had links with the rival Hillside organised crime group and he and Barry were at odds after incidents at last year’s Glastonbury festival.
Tearful mother Julie Dale, 46, said she was “very, very angry” towards Harrison, who had been in a relationship with her daughter for about five years before her shocking slaying in Old Swan, Liverpool.
She said: “Some days I feel I’m more angry towards him than to the person who killed Ashley because without Lee Harrison this wouldn’t have happened.
“The way he’s acted since this has happened has been absolutely despicable. We’ve had no remorse from him. We’ve had no support from him. We have no admittance that it’s anything to do with him. He’s given us any number of reasons of what he’s heard it’s to do with and none of them include him.
“He still carries on going about his life, leaving the country, going on holidays, lording it up, shall we say, like nothing’s happened and nothing’s changed for him and it’s absolutely disgusting, it really is.”
Ashley’s stepfather, quantity surveyor Rob Jones, 39, said: “The problem is Ashley fell in love with the wrong boy. I’m not saying for one minute Ashley did not love him, I’m saying he doesn’t love her, clearly, by his actions.”
Ashley was just one of a number of innocent victims murdered last year when caught in the middle of Merseyside’s brutal drug gang feuds. Her murder was 24 hours before nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel was shot dead by drug dealer Thomas Cashman, 35.
Later, on Christmas Eve, beautician Elle Edwards, 26, was shot dead as Connor Chapman, 23, opened fire on drug rivals at a pub.
Last night – as the four men face being jailed for life tomorrow – Ashley’s devastated family laid the blame for her tragic death squarely with her boyfriend, branding him “despicable”.
During the trial, the court heard that since his girlfriend’s death, Harrison had been “totally uncooperative” with police, and jetted to Dubai on several occasions. Julie Dale said her daughter was “career driven” and excited about starting a promotion as an environmental health officer at Knowsley council.
She said sitting through the trial, which lasted more than six weeks, had been harder than she expected. “I thought, in the early days, with some of the things that we had to do – planning a funeral and some really horrific things that we had to do in the beginning, nothing can get any worse,” she said.
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“But sitting in court having the defendants there and seeing them and then listening and seeing the horrific details of what happened to her and how she was basically just left on her own to die. It’s horrendous.”
Witham admitted Ashley’s manslaughter but claimed he only intended to target Harrison and shot her by accident. But he was convicted of murder along with fellow “foot soldier” Peers, who drove him to Ashley’s house and helped Witham stab tyres on her car in an attempt to lure her and Harrison out to be shot.
Barry and Zeisz were also convicted of murder after organising and encouraging the killing.
Witham and Barry were also convicted of conspiracy to murder Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon – the Skorpion sub-machine gun – and ammunition.
As the verdicts were read, Ms Dale’s mother and stepfather were hugged by relatives behind them and they stood and embraced each other in tears at the end.
The jury was told Barry’s feud with Harrison started about three years before the shooting when Harrison sided with the Hillside crime gang after they allegedly stole drugs from Barry.
Prosecutor Paul Greaney KC said the feud was reignited when both attended the Glastonbury festival in June 2022, with a jury told Barry threatened to stab Harrison.
At the festival, Zeisz was assaulted and his attackers included a close associate of Harrison, the jury were told. The trial heard Ashley’s voice describing the falling out between her partner and Barry, as voice notes she recorded and sent to pals in the two months before her murder were played.
The phone, recovered close to where she was found in her back garden, had been used in her final moments to try to call Harrison, who was out with friends while she spent the night at home watching TV with her dog Darla.
Last night Serena Kennedy, the Chief Constable of Merseyside, branded the gang “cowardly and despicable”. She said: “How they can live with themselves, I do not know.” In the days after Ms Dale’s murder, Witham and Peers stayed in a hotel in St Helens before being arrested en route to Scotland. Barry was arrested at a golf resort in Formby after making plans to flee the country.
Last night Julie Dale added: “The difficult thing is, most of the defendants, pretty much all of them, knew Ashley and have known her on a friendly basis.
“Never mind to do what they did, but then to get up and lie about it and talk about her.
“Hearing them mention her name just makes me so angry.”