Ashley Dale 'brought her killers to justice' from beyond the grave through hundreds of voice notes left on her phone forming an 'unprecedented' haul of evidence, police and prosecutors said.
The messages spanned the two months from a fallout at the Glastonbury festival to her own death in August last year – revealing the spiralling feud between her boyfriend Lee Harrison and criminal rivals.
In the recordings, sent to friends via WhatsApp, the 28-year-old environmental health officer described events in detail – and spoke of her own fears that Harrison would be targeted.
Detective Chief Inspector Cath Cummings, of Merseyside Police, said: 'It's Ashley who's brought these defendants to justice.
'It's the first time I've ever seen the evidence of a murder victim play such a crucial role in a court case. Ashley was narrating her own story leading to her death.
'There was barely a dry eye in the courtroom as her intense story was played out. It included messages exchanged with her mother only half an hour before she was killed.'
Ashley Dale (pictured) left 'hundreds' of WhatsApp voice notes that helped convict her killers
In the recordings, the 28-year-old environmental health officer described events in detail – and spoke of her own fears that her boyfriend Lee Harrison (pictured) would be targeted
Olivia Cristinacce-Travis, of the Crown Prosecution Service, added the extent of voice notes from Ms Dale showed 'the realities of being in 2022'.
'It's a very modern prosecution,' she said. 'It's unprecedented for a victim to foretell her own death, which is effectively what she's done through the voice notes.
'Having to listen to a young woman expressing her own anxiety and fear of what was going to happen to her is undoubtedly chilling.'
Today, hitman James Witham, 41, his driver Joseph Peers, 29, and Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, were all convicted of murder. Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, was also accused of helping to organise the killing but was found not guilty of all charges.
Following the verdicts, DCI Cummings praised members of the community in Liverpool for 'standing tall' against gun crime by coming forward with 232 pieces of evidence, including identifying the type of car used by hitman Witham at an early stage.
Police then had to 'whittle down' more than 1,000 of the same model registered in the UK to find the correct one.
The contents of 139 phones were checked and ballistics evidence examined – which found 10 shots were fired at Ms Dale - along with footprints which matched with Witham's £150 On Cloud trainers, only bought the day before the killing.
Detectives also scrutinised 'extensive' CCTV from 48 locations across Merseyside, Greater Manchester and North Wales.
James Witham and Niall Barry are among four men who were today found guilty of murdering council worker Ashley Dale
Sean Zeisz and Joseph Peers were also found guilty of murdering Ms Dale and conspiracy to murder her partner, Lee Harrison
Witham being arrested for Ms Dale's murder. He gave a fake name to officers
Barry - one of the organisers of the shooting - in the back of a police car wearing cuffs
DCI Cummings said the murder happened at an 'intense period' for Merseyside Police, with nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel being shot dead on another Liverpool estate the very next day.
Five days earlier, Sam Rimmer, 22, was also shot and killed by a Skorpion submachine gun in the city.
DCI Cummings said: 'This trial has heard of the despicable acts of cowards who have ruined more lives than they could ever imagine.
'Ashley was described as an ambitious, lively, charismatic young woman.
'They (the defendants) created fear in local communities as they shot an innocent young woman in the safest place she should be, her home.
'No one will have been able to ever imagine the fear Ashley must have felt in her final moments.'
Ms Cristinacce-Travis said there could be further prosecutions – with decisions still to be taken on further people arrested in the wake of Ms Dale's murder.
Ashley Dale with her mother, Julie, who has slammed both her murderers and her daughter's boyfriend, Lee Harrison
Julie Dale (centre) is accompanied into court by members of her family
Ms Dale (right) with her mother at Fusion festival
Ms Dale in a family photo alongside her father, Steve. Her family were in court to see her killers convicted today
There were 10 more arrests on top of those on trial – although an unspecified number of those have been told they face no further action.
The prosecutor said evidence from police infiltrating the Encrochat messaging service was a 'key factor' in helping to bring Ms Dale's killers to justice.
She said: 'Encrochat has been a key factor in the case, particularly against Niall Barry, in showing he has access to machine guns, submachine guns in particular.
'Investigations across the board have shown Encrochat was used by sophisticated criminals to facilitate transactions for drugs, firearms and other things nationally. The work done has assisted us in this trial.'
The Encrochat bust led to Niall Barry – said to be the ringleader behind Ms Dale's murder - being convicted in June of drug supply and firearms charges, while Zeisz, who helped orchestrate the killing, was also convicted on drug supply charges.
Barry – who was caught at a hotel carrying over £10,000 of cash and clothes and who was believed to be planning an escape to France or Amsterdam - may also face further charges for allegedly running a County Lines drug dealing network between Liverpool and North Wales.
Ms Cristinacce-Travis revealed that none of Ashley's friends co-operated with the prosecution for 'fear of reprisals'.
She said: 'The defendants know where they live, they know their families. You know someone since primary school, next thing that person could have a firearm.'
DCI Cummings slammed Ms Dale's 'on-off' boyfriend of over five years, Lee Harrison, for failing to co-operate with the investigation.
During the trial, Harrison was said to have been involved with a criminal gang known as the Hillsiders – rivals to Barry's 'County Lines' drug dealing business – and had allegedly stolen drugs from Barry and hitman James Witham.
Prosecutor Paul Greaney KC said: 'He has failed to show any human decency, let alone respect and love for his partner. He has put concealing his own criminality above assisting the police investigation.
'You would be entitled to conclude that all of that is repugnant.
'All of that, you might think, should make Lee Harrison a person society could shun.'
Grinning Peers and Witham buy beer in the Adisco store on Page Moss Lane, Huyton, the evening before Ms Dale was killed
Ms Dale was shot in the back garden of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool (pictured)
Giving her feelings of Harrison, DCI Cummings said: 'Disappointed is the wrong word, probably cowardly more so. He did not cooperate with the investigation.'
The detective praised the 'dignity' of Ms Dale's family in attending the trial, 'facing the six defendants, having to hear everything she had to go through'.
Merseyside Chief Constable Serena Kennedy condemned Ms Dale's killers as 'cowardly and despicable' and said Harrison's behaviour was 'disgusting'.
She said: 'How they can live with themselves, I do not know.'
Ms Kennedy added: 'I am really pleased on the convictions that we've secured today against those people who are responsible for pulling the trigger but also those people who are responsible for putting the gun into the hands of the gunman and also coordinating and hiding the person that was responsible.
'I hope it brings some small comfort to the family and friends of Ashley. It's never going to bring her back and they are going to think about how Ashley lost her life every morning when they wake up and every night when they go to sleep but I do hope they get some small comfort.
'I hope those despicable cowards who will be commencing their time in prison will think about the devastating consequences that they've had on a family here in Merseyside.
Ms Kennedy said Merseyside Police have been 'relentless' in pursuit of organised criminals in Merseyside.
Efforts have included tracking down and seizing their powerful weapons. There are now said to be five Skorpion submachine guns in circulation among Merseyside gangs – down from eight in the summer.
Ms Kennedy added: 'Our communities must be incredulous around the level of violence that these people are willing to use to settle what are petty disputes, and I think it absolutely shows the danger when people are willing to pick up any sort of weapon but in this case, pick up Skorpion weapon the devastating consequences that it can have.'
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