Ashley Dale: Gunman who shot woman ‘intended to give a warning’

Ashley Dale
Image caption,The trial has heard Ashley Dale was not the intended target of the shooting

A gunman who killed a woman in her home has told a court he intended to give a “warning” to her boyfriend and did not know anyone was in the house.

Ashley Dale, 28, was shot in Old Swan, Liverpool, on 21 August 2022.

Liverpool Crown Court has heard she was not the intended target when James Witham, 41, burst into her home in search of her partner Lee Harrison.

Mr Witham, who admits manslaughter but denies murder, told Mr Harrison had “ruined” his life by stealing from him.

He also said Mr Harrison had been trying to take the customers in North Wales he dealt drugs to away from him.

He told the jury he drove to Ms Dale’s home on Leinster Road at about 23:30 BST on 20 August, after taking cocaine and drinking alcohol, and stabbed three of the tyres on her car.

He said when no-one came out of the house, he drove to Stadt Moers Park in Huyton where a friend, who was himself in Spain and wanted for drug-related offences, had told him he had buried a Skorpion machine pistol.

“I don’t know what was going through my head,” he said.

“Just the worst mistake I’ve ever done in my life and I’m so sorry for it.”

Ashley Dale shooting
Image caption,The trial was previously shown picture of Ms Dale’s front door, which was kicked in before she was shot

He said he planned to go back to Ms Dale’s house and “give Lee a warning”, adding that when he got there at about 00:30, he barged the front door down and went upstairs, before firing shots in a bedroom.

He said as the gun was “automatic”, he had “lost control of it basically”, before running back downstairs and into the dining room, where he fired again.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, my head was battered,” he said.

Richard Pratt KC, defending Mr Witham, asked if he knew Ms Dale was there, saw her or heard her scream.

“No,” he replied.

He also denied a suggestion that he “pursued her through the house”, adding that he had been wearing his hood up, a hat and a balaclava at the time.

“Did you have any reason to hurt or kill Ashley Dale?” Mr Pratt added.

“No, she was a lovely girl and I’m so sorry for doing it,” he replied.

“I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”

He also said he did not tell any of his co-defendants he was planning to send a “warning” to Mr Harrison and denied that he had been acting on orders.

‘Completely wrong’

Earlier, co-defendant Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, told the court he spoke to Ms Dale’s boyfriend in Dubai after the shooting and denied any role in it.

He told the court he travelled to the country in the days after the shooting to avoid retaliation and being wrongly implicated.

“When I was in Dubai, I spoke to Lee,” he said.

“Lee arrived in Dubai and wanted to meet me in Dubai. I’d gone to Spain.

“He knows this is nothing to do with me.”

Police van in Leinster Road
Image caption,Ms Dale was found fatally injured in the back garden of her home on Leinster Road

The court was shown a photograph of him with his sister at the Galliard hotel in Dubai six days after the shooting.

Prosecutor Paul Greaney KC asked if he looked “shocked” and “scared” in the image.

“Facing me is my nan and grandad,” he said.

“It’s my sister’s birthday. ‘Cause I’m smiling on a picture doesn’t mean I’ve changed how I felt inside.

“I’m not going to sit there crying about it.”

Mr Fitzgibbon was arrested in Spain in August.

He said he had stayed there with his pregnant Spanish girlfriend and “didn’t know there was an arrest warrant out for me until I came into a road stop in Spain and was arrested”.

The jury was told he was at a flat in Pilch Lane, Huyton, with co-defendants Sean Zeisz, 28, Joseph Peers, 29, Niall Barry, 26, and James Witham, 41, on 20 August.

The prosecution has alleged the flat was the “centre of operations” for the murder plot and Mr Peers and Mr Witham left to carry out the shooting.

Mr Fitzgibbon said messages and attempts to call Mr Witham after he left the flat just after 22:00 GMT were to ask if he was coming back to watch a boxing match and it was “untrue” to suggest he was getting in touch to see how the “plot” was progressing.

He added that Mr Greaney was “completely wrong” when he suggested Mr Fitzgibbon had “chosen a side” and was involved in the plot.

Mr Witham, Mr Fitzgibbon and co-defendants Niall Barry, 26, Sean Zeisz, 28, and Joseph Peers, 29, deny the murder of Ms Dale, conspiracy to murder Mr Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon – a Skorpion sub-machine gun – and ammunition.

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