Ashley Dale's killers are jailed for life for her machine gun murder
Ashley Dale’s family shout out in relief as her killers are jailed for 173 years for gunning down the council worker ‘in the prime of her life’ – as her heartbroken mother tells them: ‘I will never, ever forgive you’
The family of murdered 28-year-old council worker Ashley Dale shouted with relief today as her four killers were jailed for a total of 173 years – while her heartbroken mother told them: ‘I will never, ever forgive you’.
Ms Dale was killed when gunman James Witham, 41, forced his way into the house in Old Swan, Liverpool, in the early hours of August 21 last year before opening fire with a Skorpion submachine gun.
Witham was jailed for life with a minimum term of 43 years. He had been convicted alongside Joseph Peers, 29, Niall Barry, 26 and Sean Zeisz, 28, of murdering Ms Dale and conspiracy to murder her partner, Lee Harrison – who they were targeting as part of a petty gang feud.
Peers received a minimum term of 41 years, Barry 47 years and Zeisz 42 years. Sentencing them, Mr Justice Goose said: ‘Ashley Dale was in the prime of her life when she was gunned down in her own home where she should have been safe.’
Turning to the four killers in court earlier today, the victim’s mother, Julie Dale, said she would ‘never, ever forgive them’, adding: ‘In my eyes there will never be justice, the only justice is that this would never have happened, although I can now rest knowing that you monsters are going to pay for what you have done to me and my family.
‘And that you too have ruined your own lives and your family’s lives. I hope my words haunt you all forever and, James Witham, I hope when you go to sleep at night you too see my baby girl’s face as I do every single night.’
After hearing her statement, cowardly Witham fled the dock. He later returned for the victim impact statement from Ms Dale’s father, Steve Dunne, who said her death had left him with ‘dark thoughts of whether I can live this life anymore’. His youngest son, 16-year-old Lewis Dunne, was murdered eight years ago after being mistaken for a gang member.
It can now be revealed that two of those convicted of murdering Ms Dale – plus Harrison – were named during the trial of Olivia’s killer, Thomas Cashman, as being allegedly involved in a deadly feud that culminated in the schoolgirl’s shooting.
Julie Dale (left) the mother of Ashley Dale (right) today told her daughter’s killers she would ‘never forgive’ them
James Witham and Niall Barry are among four men who will be sentenced today for the murder of 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
It can now be revealed that two of those convicted of murdering Ms Dale – plus Harrison – were named during the trial of Olivia’s killer, Thomas Cashman, as being allegedly involved in a deadly feud that culminated in the schoolgirl’s shooting
Olivia was shot dead by Cashman after he broke into her home while hunting fellow career criminal Joseph Nee
Suspected gangland enforcer Cashman – now serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 42 years for the shocking murder of Olivia – had been trying to execute fellow career criminal Joseph Nee, only for the attack to go ‘horribly wrong’.
Nee survived, giving detectives a string of names for those who might have a grudge against him – among them Barry, who may have blamed him for his arrest after Ms Dale’s shooting, he said.
Cashman’s trial also heard that intelligence gathered after Olivia’s shooting had suggested that Barry and Sean Zeisz may have threatened one of Nee’s brothers.
Nee was also said to have been at odds with the Hillsiders organised crime group, with which the trial of Ms Dale’s killers heard her boyfriend Lee Harrison and his rapper friend Jordan Thompson was affiliated.
The alleged involvement of Barry and Zeisz – and the claims of a rivalry between Nee and Harrison’s group – could not be reported until the trio had stood trial for the murder of Ms Dale.
For their part, the prosecution said police had eliminated Barry and Zeisz – who at that stage was still on the run – as being the gunman, along with Hickman, now 36, and his three brothers
During the trial, prosecutor Paul Greaney, KC, told how Ms Dale was shot in the abdomen and found dying in her rear backyard of her terraced home by a neighbour who called 999 following the attack at 12.30am on August 21 – which happened after she had been enjoying a quiet night in watching television.
Barry, who jurors heard ran a County Lines drugs ring, had fallen out with Harrison three years earlier over the alleged theft of drugs.
But at the Glastonbury Festival in 2022, his close associate and fellow drug dealer Zeisz was beaten up by a group including Harrison’s friend, Jordan Thompson, who the court heard was a member of a rival organised crime group, the Hillsiders.
To compound Zeisz’s ‘loss of face’, after he wandered off, his then girlfriend Olivia McDowell went to stay with Ashley and Harrison at the festival, before later splitting with him and developing a relationship with Thompson, 20.
Mr Greaney KC said evidence from environmental health officer Ms Dale’s iPhone provided a ‘clear picture’ of the feud between Harrison and Barry, nicknamed ‘Branch’ because of his 6ft 7ins height.
A new photo released by police today showing Ms Dale with her father, Steve Dunne
Ms Dale’s mother Julie said she was ‘more angry’ towards Harrison than the hitman himself, adding: ‘Without Lee Harrison this wouldn’t have happened’
In her voicenotes, Ms Dale told how she feared Branch was ‘out for Lee’ and that her ‘nerves are gone over it all’.
Mr Greaney said the messages were ‘the voice of Ashley describing in her own way a dispute which led to her death’.
Describing the escalating feud, Ms Dale said in a voice note to Ms McDowell three days after the festival, on June 29: ‘I know Branch has been saying madness about Lee.’
Ms Dale said she had heard of Barry saying: ‘Where’s Saz (Harrison), I’m gonna stab him up’.
In a text to a friend, named only as Sophie, on July 3, Ms Dale wrote: ‘Branch is out for Lee isn’t he? There’s been murder (aggro) again, so my nerves are gone over it all.’
Ms Dale then said: ‘It’s scary cos he’s (Barry) on pure rampage.’
The court heard further iPhone messages from Ms Dale on July 31, where she spoke of ‘heavy beef’ between Barry and Harrison and predicted ‘probably one of them is gonna (sic) end up in a bad way’.
And Ms Dale – who was doing well at work and had been interviewed for a more senior job – told a friend she was ‘proper stressed out’, adding: ‘I just have a bad feeling about everything. It’s horrible. Me (sic) heart’s in my mouth constantly.’
The court heard the weekend before the murder, an Audi used by Barry and Witham to travel to Glastonbury was exchanged for the Hyundai – ‘the car from which the killers operated’.
CCTV and ANPR evidence then regularly placed the car and conspirators in the vicinity of a flat in Huyton, where a room was used to grow cannabis, jurors were told.
Mobile phone and CCTV evidence then placed the killers at the flat on the evening of Saturday, August 20. They claimed they had gathered to watch a fight involving heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua on television.
Peers and Witham took a Skorpion machine gun and went ‘to kill Lee Harrison and deal with anyone in their way,’ Mr Greaney said.
This photo of Ms Dale with her dachshund Darla was taken less than an hour before her death
Arriving at the terraced home of Ms Dale – where Harrison sometimes stayed – at 11.40pm, the two men slashed the tyres of Miss Dale’s car, setting off the alarm to ‘lure’ the occupants outside, the prosecution said.
But Ms Dale stayed in thinking the alarm had been activated by the rain.
She texted her mother Julie Dale, saying: ‘The rain just set my car alarm off x’. Minutes later she also sent a message to one her friends with the photo of her and Darla, saying: ‘Any need for my child’.
She later added: ‘I’ve never known anything like it. She is scared of something outside. Before in the back, a cat or a rat or something. She’s got me nerves gone cos am scared of both….And now won’t leave me side like an actual baby’.
READ MORE – Double tragedy for murdered Ashley Dale’s family: How council worker was gunned down just seven years after her ‘gentle, peace-loving’ half brother
The men returned 50 minutes later and Witham kicked down the front door, Mr Greaney said.
Ms Dale was heard by a neighbour screaming ‘get the f** out’. She ‘attempted to run for her life but Witham opened fire’, shooting her ‘deliberately and mercilessly’, the prosecutor said.
Mr Greaney added Witham then went upstairs and fired five bullets into a bedroom wall to ‘send a message’ that Harrison, too, ‘should be dead’.
Jurors were told Witham left DNA on a gun cartridge while a print from his expensive On Cloud trainers bought less than two days earlier was found on a panel from the broken door.
Jurors heard Barry arranged to be smuggled to Europe via a ‘concealed route’ using an underworld fixer but was arrested by armed police at a hotel before he left.
Witham – who has previous convictions for drug dealing, motoring offences and assault – was arrested with Peers in a car which was stopped on the M6 three weeks after the murder. He initially gave a false name after handcuffs were placed on him.
Witham, who along with Barry is a father of young children, could be heard to quietly repeat ‘suspicion of murder’ back to the PC and was seen to shake his head. He then put his head back and puffed out his cheeks before nodding.
Barry, who jurors heard ran a County Lines drugs ring, had fallen out with Harrison three years earlier over the alleged theft of drugs.
Ringleader Barry, of Tuebrook, Liverpool, was born to a stenographer mother and computer consultant father, while Zeisz and Witham, both of Huyton, Liverpool, and Joseph Peers, of Roby, Liverpool, are from working class backgrounds.
A family photo of Ashley Dale with her dachshund Darla
Ms Dale (right) with her mother at Fusion festival
Witham, Peers, Barry, Zeisz, were found guilty for Ashley’s murder and now face life sentences. The four men were also convicted of conspiracy to murder Harrison and of conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon and ammunition with intent to endanger life.
A fifth defendant, Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, was cleared of the same charges.
And a sixth man, Kallum Radford, 25, was also found not guilty of assisting an offender for arranging to hide the Hyundai i30 car used by Peers and Witham.
Barry and Zeisz face added jail time after police intercepted communications between gangsters using the Encrochat messaging service.
READ MORE – The three fatal shootings in a week which rocked Liverpool: How Ashley Dale was gunned down a day before Olivia Pratt Korbell
Julie Dale slammed Harrison’s behaviour since the murder on August 21 last year – refusing to cooperate with the police investigation into her death and leaving the country – as ‘absolutely despicable’.
She declared she was ‘more angry’ at Harrison, a former friend of Barry and his associate Sean Zeisz, also convicted of murder, ‘than I am to the person who’s actually killed Ashley’.
She added: ‘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 and he still carries on, you know, 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.’
Julie insisted her daughter was ‘her own person’ and that she ‘couldn’t control who she chose to fall in love with’, her daughter ‘knew my feelings about Lee’.
She said: ‘I knew that he didn’t have a nine to five job, I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t know the full extent of what he was doing but I did tell Ashley on a regular basis that I wasn’t happy with her being with someone like Lee Harrison.
‘What I mean by that is, she had so many prospects and aspirations. She just wanted to live a normal life, whatever that was, and he was never ever going to be able to do that. She constantly strived for him to be that person and he was never ever going to be that.’
Her partner and Ashley’s stepfather Rob Jones, 39, a quantity surveyor, added: ‘He’s akin to the people who’ve done this in that he just won’t face the truth and he’s living his own lies, so to speak.
‘They’re all collectively just a different world from the one we’ve lived in and we’ve had to be dragged into it now.
‘They all lie, they all cheat, they all steal, they know no different. This wasn’t Ashley’s world.’
Julie Dale (centre) is accompanied into court by members of her family
Ms Dale – seen in family photos with her dachshund Darla – was gunned down in her home
Ms Dale was shot in the back garden of her home in Old Swan, Liverpool (pictured)
Ashley – gunned down with a Skorpion submachine gun at her home in Old Swan, Liverpool, on August 21, 2022 – was one of five innocents murdered last year amid escalating violence between Merseyside drug gangs.
Other innocent victims of Liverpool’s violent gang feuds last year were Olivia Pratt-Korbel, aged nine, killed at her home in Dovecot, Liverpool, the day after Ashley’s murder, beautician Elle Edwards, 26, who died when a gunman opened fire on a pub beer garden in Wallasey, Wirral, on Christmas Eve, and Sam Rimmer, 22, who died on August 16, when shots were fired at a group of men in Dingle, Liverpool.
A fifth killing involved grandmother Jacqueline Rutter, gunned down in her home in Moreton, Wirral, in October 2022. Nobody has been charged over her death.
Gunman Thomas Cashman, now 35, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 42 years for the murder of Olivia.
She was shot with a .38 revolver after intended target Joseph Nee – who was being pursued down the street – attempted to escape by bursting into Olivia’s family home. As her mother tried to keep the door shut, a shot fired towards drug dealer Nee hit her wrist before striking Olivia.
In July, Connor Chapman, 23, received a 48-year minimum term after being found guilty of murdering Ms Edwards with a Skorpion submachine gun.
Nobody has yet been caught for killing Mr Rimmer, also shot with a Skorpion.
Paying tribute to her daughter, her mother Julie Dale called her ‘the most glamorous person that you’d ever see’.
She recalled: ‘She was very career driven. She knew what she wanted in life, shall we say, from a very early age.
‘She was very excited about (the) promotion. And she just wanted to sort of settle down and have a normal life.’
Julie and her partner Rob Jones, who live in Old Swan, Liverpool, close to Ashley’s home where she was brutally shot, said she ‘loved’ music festivals and first went to Glastonbury when she was ‘maybe 18-19’.
Ashley’s mother described their relationship as ‘very close’, speaking ‘every day on the phone’.
The killers had attempted to lure Ms Dale outside by slashing the tyres on her car
A bullet casing was found under her bed that was used to trace Witham
The gunman knocked down her front door before bursting inside and opening fire
She recalled: ‘Most mornings I’d ring her or she’d ring me as we were starting work and that continued as the day went on, we’d either speak on social media or we’d ring each other, we’d text, whatever it was, the communication always went on throughout the day or she’d just pop up at our house unannounced, pop in for a coffee or pop in got lunch. There probably wasn’t really a day who we didn’t speak really.’
Mr Jones said the couple’s lives had been ‘on standby’ since her murder.
READ MORE – The ‘chilling’ WhatsApp voice notes that brought killers to justice: How Ashley Dale’s messages revealed her ‘terrible anxiety’ before her murder – and helped convict gang from beyond the grave
He said: ‘It’s took us 15 months to get to a trial, obviously trusting the process with the police and fantastic work they did to get us to a trial and convictions but (the unknown is) where our life goes from here now.
‘You can’t rebuild. People say rebuild your life, you can’t rebuild something with the most integral part of it missing.’
He recalled Ashley as someone who was ‘always very studious, loved a debate, (an) argument but in a good way’.
Mr Jones added: ‘We always tried to make her know the values of getting a good education, being able to give yourself options in life in life and choices in life. I think that’s the philosophy we’ve always had.’
Julie told how she found it ‘horrendous’ to have to sit in court ‘having the defendants there and seeing them and then listening and seeing the horrific details that what happened to her and how she was just basically just left on her own to die.’
She 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 (doing) 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.
‘You’ve done this and you’re getting up there and you’re speaking about her and then you’re covering your tracks and everything else.’
Pictured left to right on a night out: Sean Zeisz and Niall Barry – who helped carry out the shooting – and Ms Dale’s girlfriend Lee Harrison
Referring again to Harrison, she added: ‘Not the defendants but certain people, are meant to have loved Ashley and just gone and lied and lied like her life was worth nothing, just ‘save me own back’ and that’s it.’
Mr Jones said the defendants had shown ‘not one ounce of remorse’ and behaved as if the horrendous crime was a video game.
‘This is not a computer game, this is real life. I don’t think any of them grasped that during the trial,’ he said.
In a warning to others tempted to become involved with crime, drugs and weapons, Julie added: ‘Don’t do it, think about what you’re doing.
‘The ripple effect of all these crimes and being involved in these things, it only goes one way. You’re going to even end up in prison for a very long time or worse.
‘It affects so many people. We’re broken, our life is never ever going to be the same ever again.
‘We’ve got two children whose lives aren’t ever going to be the same again. They’re going to have to grow up now with always being that person whose sister was brutally murdered.’
‘It still amazes me some of the details we’ve heard in the trial, what some of the defendants have gone on to do afterwards.
‘I wouldn’t know how to start to get a gun or try to leave the country illegally.’
In a warning to young men tempted to become involved in crime, Mr Jones called for a change to stop generations of families becoming caught up in a cycle of lawless violence.
He said: ‘You’re getting third, fourth, fifth generation people of this now. You’ve got second and third generations of scumbags who are being brought up by scumbags.
‘If there’s any message that I’d get out there it’s just tell the truth and help the police in what they’re doing, it’s the only way this world will get rid of the problems we’ve got.’
Julie added: ‘It’s not schoolground behaviour this, it’s not like someone’s car’s been smashed. It can’t get any worse than this. It really, really can’t.’
She added: ‘People talk about justice and I get, you know, justice is getting these people put behind bars for a very long time and making them pay.
‘At least I can rest assured now knowing that these people are going to pay for what they’ve done.
‘It’s not going to change it, it’s not going to bring Ashley back, it’s not going to make me feel any better.
‘It might just help people start thinking these sentences are getting bigger, maybe you might think twice about it.’
Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said she hoped the convictions would bring ‘some small comfort’ to Ms Dale’s family and friends.
She said: ‘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.’
‘My life might as well have ended as well’: Full victim impact statements from Ashley Dale’s heartbroken parents
Ms Dale’s mother, Julie, told the court –
Ashley pictured with her mother on the day of her graduation
03:45 on the 21st August 2022. The day I not only lost my daughter, but my best friend. The night we got that dreaded knock that no parent or family should ever have to get.
Two police officers stood at my door, an image that will haunt me forever. I remember walking down the stairs, saying to Bobby ‘I’m scared’, I know what this means. ‘Can we come in?’, they said. Never did I think they would say these words.
‘She’s passed away,’ they said.
My life might as well have ended there too. Those three little words had just turned my lights out forever; time has since stood still.
How? Why? What’s happened? Are you sure it’s Ashley? All those questions running round my mind. Our lives had just been turned upside down in the blink of an eye. She can’t be, we only spoke a few hours ago and she was fine.
There’s been an incident at Ashley’s home. ‘She has been shot’ they said. Shaking, I fell to the floor.
The police officers left, leaving carnage behind. Myself and Bobby in total shock and disbelief. Ashley’s two younger sisters were sleeping peacefully in their beds upstairs. Then the reality set in, that I was going to have to tell them, their big sister they so adored was no longer here. Those poor innocent girls, exposed to this horrific act. How can I tell them some evil person has done this to their defenceless sister who was home alone in her place of safety. A place where they regularly spent nights staying over.
Sleeping in the bedroom where five shots had been fired, above the bed where they had slept only one week before. The horrific thought came to my mind, that we could have been here dealing with multiple murders. My whole family could have been killed that night. No thought given to who could have been in the house, one intention only: to kill.
Another sound no mother should hear – the screams of my baby girls when I told them something awful had happened to their big sister, and she had passed away. The inconsolable cries of a seven and 12-year-old, whose lights had also just been switched off.
Terrified something terrible will happen to them, we all spent the next week sleeping in the same bed. The months of sleepless nights, crying out in their sleep, shouting for their sister ‘why, why, why’ or ‘mummy, help me’. The ongoing months of therapy needed, to help my now nine-year-old process how or why this has happened. My 12-year-old forced to change school, as she felt unable to return to her old one. In fear of everyone knowing what had happened, not wanting to feel like she was in a ‘fish bowl’ with all eyes on her. Never to spend another night staying over at their big sister’s house being spoilt, or never getting to become aunties, a role that they both so looked forward too.
That night I had to do the unthinkable. Again something no mum should ever have to do. I identified my beautiful, sweet baby girl in a mortuary, lying there lifeless behind a glass screen. Unable to touch, hold or smell her. My beautiful perfect girl was now a piece of evidence.
The weeks went by and the unthinkable things continued. Choosing a coffin for my 28-year-old daughter, brochures left behind like I was choosing a piece of furniture, or shopping for an outfit for her to wear, whilst she lay dead alone in a funeral home. Planning her funeral, the most unnatural thing a parent should ever have to do. What should have been a private event broadcast on TV for the world to see. Our once private life, now in the public eye for all to see and comment.
How has this happened? Two weeks before we toasted her promotion over Sunday lunch. Ashley was so excited to start her new role and we were all so so proud of her achievements, seeing her graduate was one of the proudest moments of my life. But now the plans she had for life had been robbed from her, for an utterly senseless crime.
At 45 I’d lost my daughter, my life has changed forever. I’ve been forced to leave my job as a midwife, which I have done for the past 20 years. A career I’d worked so hard for, to better mine and Ashley’s lives, defeating the odds by going to university and getting a degree after being written off as a young mum. The sense of loss after not being unemployed since the age of 16, and the financial hardship and worry this has brought.
I hate that I won’t see her get married, have children and deliver her babies, become Nanny ‘Julie’ or grow old together like we always joked about. Often being mistaken for sisters as we were only 16 years apart. Trying to fill that void, as we spoke every day sharing everything. Getting into my car and calling her, even if she never answered, that I will never get used to. We don’t get to spend another Christmas with her, harassing me to put her tree up. Walking in on Christmas day looking like a supermodel, asking ‘when’s dinner ready?’ and I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge sweating over the stove.
We should be celebrating her 30th birthday this year, a milestone we all so looked forward to celebrating, and have that trip to New York, like we did for her 18th.
I don’t like leaving the house anymore, socialising with friends, having my photo taken, going the gym and doing all the things we once enjoyed doing as a family – I am a different mum, friend and partner now.
I don’t feel safe in my own home, fearful something terrible will happen to me or my family. My once rational mind is very irrational now. I am scared when a car drives past, or an unexpected visitor knocks at the door. I can’t sleep and when I do I wake and the reality of this nightmare hits me and Ashley dies over and over again. I take medication I never imagined myself needing just to get me through the day. Months of counselling to help process this, but what can anyone say or do to make me feel better?
This past year has been unbearable, the countless visits from police, court visits, meeting with barristers and CPS, thrust into an unknown criminal arena. I have spent the last 15 months, anticipating how or if I would cope during my daughter’s murder trial. Having to sit through endless weeks, seeing and hearing the most horrific details of how my perfect girl was left terrified asking for help, dying alone in a cold wet back yard. Hearing how you all made attempts to cover this up with lies to save yourselves, showing no remorse or compassion to me or my family. Some of you even claiming to be heartbroken and devastated, yet still you could not do the right thing. Making a mockery with the answers given as to how and why this act was carried out.
No act or person deserves to die – but this I will never ever begin to understand or accept how this could have happened to my perfect beautiful girl, who had her whole life ahead of her.
I hope you ALL understand, that I will never ever forgive you, for the life sentence you have gave to me and my family.
People speak about Justice for Ashley! But in my eyes there will never be justice, the only justice is that this would never have happened. Although I can now rest knowing that you monsters are going to pay for what you have done to me and my family. And that you too have ruined your own lives and your family’s lives. I hope my words haunt you all forever and you James Witham; I hope when you go to sleep at night you too see my baby girl’s face as I do every single night.
For My Ash, My Baby Girl, Forever 28. I love you. I Miss You. Until we meet again, Mum.
Her father, Steve Dunne, said:
Ms Dale in a family photo alongside her father, Steve
On Saturday 20th August 2022, I went to bed as normal. I didn’t realise that when I woke up, my life would never be the same again. In the early hours of the morning on Sunday 21st August 2022, I was awoken by an officer from Merseyside Police who, on confirming who I was, told me my daughter, Ashley Dale, was dead.
I can’t even begin to describe how I felt. I’d instantly been confined to a living nightmare. He then proceeded to tell me that Ashley had been shot. I remember shouting ‘no’ for a long time at the top of my voice; I couldn’t believe it – history had repeated itself.
My son, Lewis Dunne, had been shot dead seven years previous at only 16 years of age. He was shot at close range in the back with a shotgun in a case of mistaken identity; an innocent victim caught in the middle of a gang feud. It had been a long seven years of pulling myself out of some very dark – and at times, lonely – places, trying to put my life back together.
In 2022, I was expecting the arrival of my first grandson, and life seemed to be pretty positive again. It had taken a lot to get to where I was after the murder of my son, and I’d instantly been put back to day one by the actions of another. Ashley is the oldest of my three children, Lewis the youngest – both are now deceased.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about Ashley.
I couldn’t be any prouder of Ashley. She was a beautiful, intelligent, charismatic, career-driven, and family-orientated young woman. She had been through a lot with the death of her brother, but still managed throughout that ordeal and the subsequent murder trial to concentrate on her studies, graduating with a degree in environmental health. This is a testament to her strength, dedication, and intelligence. She knew what she wanted in life and worked hard to achieve it; she always did.
She loved her food and when we’d go out for family meals, it was nearly always Ashley’s choice, but we were in good hands; Ashley had good taste. Ashley had a very active social life; she was liked by everyone, so getting a timeslot on Ashley’s busy schedule could usually be guaranteed by an offer of some nice tapas, or by cooking her a nice meal.
Her favourite was steak, roast potatoes, broccoli, peas, and mushrooms; that was what she would most often ask me to cook, and we would sit, talk, and catch up for hours. I cherished every second that I spent with her. Because of the callous and cruel actions of those responsible, I will never be able to have a family meal with Ashley again. Despite this, as we saw on CCTV during the trial, Mr. Witham considered it acceptable to take Ashley’s life away – take all that from her, me, and all of her family – before spending time dining with his own young son, just two days after murdering her.
Ashley loved going to festivals but had started recently speaking to me about wanting to start a family. She knew her current relationship was not one that she wanted to bring a child into, but she just couldn’t bring herself to make that permanent break. Ashley never got the chance to be a mum, and her family have been robbed of the chance of meeting Ashley’s children, my grandchildren.
Ashley had recently been promoted to a higher position in work, which is characteristic of her ambition and dedication; but she never got the chance to take up that position and enjoy the rewards of her hard work.
The 15th November 2023 marked the eight-year anniversary of Lewis’ death; the 16th November 2023 was the seven-year anniversary of the three men responsible being found guilty of his murder. I was sitting in the very same court with my daughters’ – Ashley and Yazmin – when those verdicts were read out.
Ashley sobbed uncontrollably when the foreman delivered those verdicts; she had to live through the trauma caused not only by Lewis’ murder, but by the subsequent trial which those responsible forced upon us all by failing to admit responsibility for what they had done.
I am now sitting with my one remaining child, having been put through the trauma of yet another trial, listening to those verdicts being read out in relation to Ashley’s murder. I have lost another child; a victim of big egos running around the city with powerful guns, involved in petty feuds and killing innocent people.
Christmas 2022 should have been a happy time; the first Christmas I would get to share with my first grandson. Instead, it was the darkest place I have ever been to in my life.
I went away for a week before Christmas by myself, just to get away from everything, to try to prepare myself mentally for what I knew would be a difficult time; the first Christmas without not one, but two of my kids. I will never get it out of my head; the fear that Ashley must have felt that night, which would undoubtedly have been exacerbated by the post-traumatic stress disorder that Ashley had suffered since the death of her brother, and the pain she must have gone through after this brutal, savage act was committed against her.
These thoughts affected me most around Christmas time, when I should have been spending quality time with my children. Instead, from the 23rd to 27th December 2022 I wasn’t able to leave my house. I sat in with the curtains and blinds shut, listening to songs Ashley enjoyed; grieving, crying, and contemplating dark thoughts of whether I can live this life anymore; whether I would have the strength to go through the coming years, knowing that I’d have to do so without two of my children. My own post-traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating, lonely, and unbearable mental illness, and it’s going to take years of hard work to try to overcome this – again.
It was the first time in my life that I experienced what it actually felt like when someone can’t go on, but I knew I had to for my daughter, my grandson, and my family; I also knew I had to see justice done for Ashley.
From day one of the trial, I have not seen one single shred of remorse from any of the defendants; in fact, quite the opposite – I have felt that, throughout the trial, often during breaks in the court procedure, they have all individually behaved very disrespectfully towards myself and other members of Ashley’s family.
On that night in August, these individuals targeted Ashley’s car; they targeted Ashley’s house; they targeted Ashley – an innocent girl home along on a Saturday night, cuddled up to her beloved dog, Darla – a place where she should have been safe and happy.
This is as senseless and ruthless as it comes, and I would ask that consideration be given to imposing the maximum sentence possible on these men. Throughout the course of the trial, they have not acknowledged our pain, apologised, or shown any understanding of the impact of what they have done; they are only sorry that they have been caught. From what I’ve observed throughout the course of this trial, I don’t believe this will change any time soon, if ever.
By failing to admit responsibility, they have forced us to sit through the harrowing ordeal of yet another trial; they have consistently lied to try and avoid being punished for their actions.
These are clearly dangerous individuals, able and willing to deploy the most dangerous of automatic weapons to settle petty disputes, without any concern at all for those caught up in the crossfire. No family should ever have to go through what we have gone through; these men cannot be allowed to do this to anyone else.
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