“The problem we keep coming back to is that Ashley fell in love with the wrong boy,” the stepfather of a murdered young council worker told reporters after the affair led to her untimely death.
In the weeks before the shooting, Ashley Dale told friends of her “terrible anxiety” that the alleged gang leader was “on a pure rampage” after an alleged row over drugs with her boyfriend.
Shortly afterwards, the 28-year-old was found brutally shot in the back garden of her home on a summer night last year.
These horrified voice recordings appeared at the recent trial at Liverpool Crown Court of the five men accused of planning and carrying out her murder following an alleged feud between them and her partner Lee Harrison, who the court heard was the target of the shot.
Asked how she now feels about Mr Harrison, her mother Julie Dale, 46, said: “Some days I feel like I'm angrier towards him than whoever actually killed Ashley because without Lee Harrison this wouldn't he had. it happened “
He added: “The way he has acted since it happened has been absolutely despicable. We had no regrets from him. We had no support from him. We have no admission that it has anything to do with him.”
During their five-year relationship, she said her daughter was aware of her mother's disapproval of Mr Harrison, saying: ‘I told Ashley on a regular basis that I wasn't happy she was with someone like Lee Harrison. .
During the trial, the court heard that since his girlfriend's death, Mr Harrison had been “completely uncooperative” with police and had been to Dubai several times.
The gunman, James Witham, 41, from Huyton, Merseyside, who had already admitted Ms Dale's manslaughter, was found guilty of Ms Dale's murder. Niall Barry, 26, from Tuebrook, Merseyside, who denied being the leader of an organized crime group, was also found guilty of the same charge.
“The difficult thing is that most of the defendants, almost all of them, knew Ashley and knew her on a friendly basis,” her mother said. “It's okay for them to do what they did, but then get up and lie about it and talk about her.”
Jurors had been shown photographs of Miss Dale and Mr Harrison with some of the defendants, including an undated photo of her posing with Witham's killer.
Her mother said her daughter enjoyed being at home and was “career driven” and had recently been promoted to environmental health officer at Knowsley Council.
The court heard how Witham intended to send a “warning” to Ms Dale's boyfriend when he broke into her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, and began firing indiscriminately with a Skorpion sub-machine gun in the early hours of August 21 last year.
Witham claimed Mr Harrison had “ruined” his life by stealing from him and trying to get his drug dealing clients in North Wales – but Witham denied he was acting on orders.
However, co-accused Sean Zeisz, 28, from Huyton, Merseyside, who has been found guilty of Ms Dale's murder, admitted Barry had a problem with Mr Harrison.
Zeiss, who said he supplied drugs to Barry, told Barry's court he had stolen a kilo and a half of cocaine, worth around £40,000, from a group called the Hillsiders, with whom the trial heard Harrison. In the aftermath of the robbery, Barry said he and Harrison, former friends, stopped talking in 2018 or 2019.
The feud then reportedly reignited at Glastonbury Festival last June.
The court heard that Zeisz had been assaulted while at the festival but denied being hit by a man called Jordan Thompson, a friend of Mr Harrison's.
Co-accused Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, of St Helens, Merseyside, who was found not guilty of Ms Dale's murder, told the court that while attending Glastonbury in June 2022, Barry showed him a knife and said he was going to stab Mr. Harrison, known as Saz.
Barry insisted the threat at the festival was not directed at anyone in particular, but admitted threatening Mr Harrison during a phone call a month later on July 26 last year. The court heard Barry told Harrison: “I'm going to come round the estate and punch you in the head.”
Less than a month later, on the evening of August 20, the five accused had gathered at a flat in Pilch Lane, Huyton, which the prosecution described as the “centre of operations” for the murder plot.
The court heard Joseph Peers, 29, of Roby, Merseyside, who has been found guilty of murdering Mrs Dale, left with Witham to shoot on 10.10pm.
Giving evidence as Ms Dale's mother, stepfather Rob Jones and other relatives watched from the public gallery, Witham said he pushed down the front door with his shoulder and then went upstairs, firing shots into a bedroom. He said he “lost control” of the gun, which was capable of firing 850 to 900 rounds a minute, and ran downstairs before going into the dining room and firing again, aiming at the wall.
Describing the shooting as a “moment of madness”, he denied knowing if Ms Dale was there, saw her or heard her screaming.
Later on the day of the shooting, the court heard the gunman and Peers booked a two-night stay in a double room at the Mercure Hotel in St Helens, Merseyside. CCTV from August 23 then showed Witham depositing £1,000 into his bank account as well as shopping at Liverpool One shopping centre.
On September 13, the court heard Cumbria police officers stopped an Audi on the M6 and arrested Peers and Witham, who was seen on body-worn video smoking a cigarette as he was handcuffed and initially gave his name as Francis Kelly.
Meanwhile, on August 24, Barry and his girlfriend Lucy Worley were seen on CCTV arriving at Formby Hall Golf Resort and Spa, shortly before eight armed officers from Merseyside Police burst into the couple's room and arrested him.
The court heard that Barry had been texting a man called Gus, who the prosecution described as a “fitter”, who was allowing people to leave the country, and that police found £10,275 in a Nike bag in the hotel room .
Mr Rawsthorne said Mr Harrison told police he had been out with friends on the night of her shooting and had been drinking alcohol and taking cocaine. Mr Harrison had seen the police cordon on his way back from a nightclub to a flat in the early hours of the morning, Mr Rawsthorne said.
The court heard Mr Harrison said he had “no idea” why he or Ms Dale would be targeted and “vehemently denied” being threatened. He admitted he and Barry had fallen out but said it was three years ago, while describing Witham as an “old mate”.
Speaking about the trial, Julie Dale said the six-week ordeal was harder than she expected.
“I thought, in the early days, with some of the things we had to do – planning a funeral and some really horrible things we had to do at the beginning, I thought nothing could top them, nothing could get worse . ” he said.
“But to sit in court with the defendants there and see them and then hear and see the horrific details of what happened to her and how she was basically left alone to die. It's horrible.”
A sixth defendant, Callum Radford, 26, of no fixed address, denied assisting an offender by helping to store the Hyundai used in the murder.