Hundreds of voice recordings recovered from the phone of a young woman gunned down in her home allowed her to “tell her own story in court” and bring her killers to justice, detectives have said.
The device, belonging to Ashley Dale, was discovered next to where police found her lying fatally injured in the garden of her house in Liverpool.
The 28-year-old had been shot to death with a Skorpion machine gun by James Witham in a botched gangland hit on Aug 21 last year.
The shooting occurred just one day before another high-profile fatal shooting in Merseyside last year – that of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel.
At Liverpool Crown Court on Tuesday, four men were convicted of Miss Dale’s murder.
Witham, 41, previously admitted manslaughter, but jurors also found him guilty of her murder, along with fellow “foot soldier” Joseph Peers, 29.
Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, were also convicted of murder after the jury heard they organised the attack from a nearby house.
The court heard the hit was ordered following a feud between Miss Dale’s boyfriend Lee Harrison and Barry that was re-ignited when Zeisz was assaulted at Glastonbury music festival last year.
The court heard that Mr Harrison, who has not co-operated with police since the shooting, was the intended target.
Messages and voice notes sent between Miss Dale and her friends dating back from the day of her death to June, when she attended the festival, were analysed by police after the killing.
Jurors heard Miss Dale’s own voice describing events in the weeks leading up to the shooting as many of the recordings were played in court.
‘It is quite unprecedented’
Speaking after the verdict, senior crown prosecutor Olivia Cristinacce-Travis said: “It is quite unprecedented to have a narrator, essentially, telling her own story.”
She added: “We all do text messages and WhatsApp, but it was the amount of voice notes that she used, which I suppose shows the realities of being in 2023.”
She said the recovery of the phone led to a “very modern prosecution”.
Det Chief Insp Cath Cummings said that hearing Miss Dale’s voice in court was “the most compelling and emotional” part of the trial.
She said: “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the evidence of the murder victim play such a crucial role in a court case.
“Ashley was narrating her own story and events that led to her death.
“There was barely a dry eye in the courtroom as her increased fear and anxiety was played out through recovered voice notes from her phone.”
She added: “It’s Ashley that’s actually brought these offenders to justice because overlaying that with the evidence that we’ve been able to gather, she’s told us the story herself.”
Miss Dale’s stepfather Rob Jones said her phone had been a “massive part” of the conviction of her murderers.
In one message, a clearly shaken Miss Dale told friends she had a “bad, bad feeling about everything”.
Speaking on Aug 1, almost three weeks before her murder, she said: “My nerves are gone, when I am out in the car with Lee just feeling like I’m looking over me shoulder all the time.”
Miss Dale’s mother cried as the jury returned the first guilty verdict at 2.30pm on Monday.
Julie Dale, 46, said she was still “very, very angry” at Mr Harrison, who had been in a relationship with her daughter for roughly five years before her death.
She said: “Some days I feel like I’m more angry towards him than I am to the person who’s actually killed Ashley because without Lee Harrison this wouldn’t have happened.”
She added: “The way he’s acted since this has happened has been absolutely despicable.
“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.”
She said her daughter’s boyfriend had shown no remorse and had been away on holiday to Dubai on several occasions since the murder.
Miss Dale’s stepfather added: “The problem we keep coming back to is Ashley fell in love with the wrong boy.”
A fifth defendant, who was also accused of organising or encouraging the killing, Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, was found not guilty of murder.
Kallum Radford, 26, was found not guilty of assisting an offender by helping to store the car used in the murder.
Sentencing will take place on Wednesday at 11am.
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