The mum of Ashley Dale asked "where's her boyfriend?" when police officers knocked at her door at 3am to tell her her daughter had been killed.

Julie Dale, 43, and partner of 17-years Rob Jones, 39, are struggling to come to terms with the loss of 28-year-old Ashley, who died as a result of a simmering, petty feud that had absolutely nothing to do with her.

Ashley was working towards her qualification as a chartered environmental health officer, putting the finishing touches on her portfolio, and working hard in her job at Knowsley Council. For Ashley life was about having fun at music festivals, spending time with her younger sisters, working hard and planning her future - which seemed bright.

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But as the trial heard, during that time her boyfriend, Lee Harrison, known as 'Saz', was living an entirely different kind of life - running with a Huyton based organised crime group known as the 'Hillsiders', known for involvement in both drug trafficking and robbing other dealers.

Ashley was shot dead inside her own home in Leinster Road, Old Swan, as part of a plot to kill Harrison, who had made dangerous enemies even amongst former friends.

Harrison's behaviour after the shooting was astonishing. The trial heard that he was out in the city centre at the time of the shooting with fellow alleged criminal and 'Hillsider' Jordan Thompson - nicknamed 'Dusty' because he would "leave people for dust".

Lee Harrison, left, with his friend turned enemy Niall Barry
Lee Harrison, left, with his friend turned enemy Niall Barry

A jury at Liverpool Crown Court heard Harrison refused to co-operate with police, denying time and time again that he had any inkling why the home he shared with his partner of five years was shot up. On one occasion, according to Police Staff Investigator Dave Rawsthorne, Harrison remained lounging in bed while detectives desperately tried to glean vital information about what happened.

Julie and Rob had their doubts about Harrison, and regularly told Ashley so. But as Julie said: "I wouldn't say we seen him on a regular basis, it was very few and far between, he would very rarely come to our house. I would see him every now and again if I would pop into Ashley's, but again he wasn't in a lot.
"He was out quite a bit, which was another big issue for Ashley, because you know she would be going to bed and getting up for work in the morning. And he would come in at all hours and wake her up and stuff like that, that was a big thing."

Julie Dale, left, with her daughter Ashley Dale. Ashley was shot dead on August 21, 2022
Julie Dale, left, with her daughter Ashley Dale. Ashley was shot dead on August 21, 2022

Rob added: "Any type of story where Ashley would say that, Julie and me would be saying to her; 'are you sure you're with the right person? Maybe check yourself and give yourself something to think about here'. And I can only think when you're looking back and second guessing aren't you, but I can only think with those type of conversations, it was Ashley's interest probably not to say the full truth to her mum, or to me.

"She could talk to me about anything and often did. She knows she would say too much potentially and I'm guessing here, we would have been there more. It such a difficult thing, it's a balance all the time. Because she was ferociously independent, she was educated, she was making all the right decisions as we saw it from a professional point of view with her life.
"But you can't control someone's feelings. She has had feelings for someone, whose feelings quite clearly haven't been the same for her."

Harrison's underworld disputes with organised crime boss Niall Barry, 26, resulted Barry's "footsoldier", 41-year-old James Witham, barging through Ashley’s front door at 12.30am on August 21 last year. Witham chased Ashley down while spraying bullets from a Skorpion sub-machine gun, before fleeing the scene in a Hyundai car driven by Joseph Peers, 29.

Barry and his friend Sean Zeisz, 28, directed the horrific act of violence from a squalid flat in Pilch Lane, Huyton. All four men were convicted of Ashley's murder and conspiracy to murder Harrison on Monday. A fifth man, 28-year-old Ian Fitzgibbon, was also present in the flat but was found not guilty of any involvement in Ashley's death.

The family of Ashley Dale arrive at Liverpool Crown Court including mum Julie Dale, middle, with step-dad Rob Jones.
The family of Ashley Dale arrive at Liverpool Crown Court including mum Julie Dale, middle, with step-dad Rob Jones.

For Julie, from the moment the sickening news brought her world crashing down, she had no doubt why death had been brought to Ashley’s door.

Julie said: “Straight away, when the police officers knocked at our house at quarter to three in the morning on the 21st August, we said straight away 'where's her boyfriend? It's got to be something to do with him. It's not just a random attack someone doesn't just break into someone's home, and kill them. It's got to be to do with him'.”

Both Julie and Rob said the deep concerns about threats to Harrison, which Ashley had shared with friends in text and voice messages revealed during the trial, were a shock and have been painful to listen to.

Rob said: "We had no concerns, at all, that Ashley was at risk or that there was any danger to Ashley. Our children used to stay with Ashley quite a lot, she was quite homely, she liked her festivals, but she was quite homely and she would do them tea and have them over of a night.

"If we thought there was any issue like this, well obviously we would never have let the kids go there. She presented herself as being happy, with Lee. She had been with previous boyfriends and relationships would get to their end and you could see the writing was on the wall, and they ended. Ashley presented as being quite happy with Lee. What we have heard in the trial has shocked us.

"The things, the world that Lee has been into or on the periphery of or associated with, however you want to phrase it. Ashley thought she could improve Lee. She thought she could turn him round, get him a job, get him a driving licence, could push his life in the right direction, not that we knew how wrong a direction it was going in.

From left; Ashley Dale's killers James Witham, Sean Zeisz, Niall Barry and Joseph Peers
From left; Ashley Dale's killers James Witham, Sean Zeisz, Niall Barry and Joseph Peers

"Ashley was always very studious. When I first met her she was 12 years of age, she was wise beyond her years at 12. She did well at school, she did well at university, which was she wanted to do. It's been so difficult for Julie, I'm sitting observing this, because they were so close, they would talk so often, it almost feels like an aspect of Ashley almost didn't want to face the truth, what if she might have known? Who knows. We don't know exactly what she did or didn't know and the depth of it. We all heard what came out in the trial and the kind of fear and anxiety she's held. It's been so hard for us to take that, because we were unaware of anything like that."

Julie added: "There's no way I would have let her carry on living in the house if I thought there was any danger. I know we've heard her saying about her anxieties and this feud that Lee Harrison had with Niall Barry etc, but I honestly don't believe that Ashley thought, and who would think that something would come to this, it can't get any worse than this it really, really can't.

"She never relayed any of her fears whatsoever, which again is hard because we did have such a good relationship. But she was 28 years-of-age, she was an adult, I couldn't live her life for her, even though I told her I wasn't happy about her being with Lee Harrison. She has obviously chose that path."

The couple described their feelings about who bears ultimate responsibility for Ashley's death as a complicated question. Rob said: " I think on that point it depends what day it is. The decision has been reached by the jury, by the judicial system it's clear these are the people responsible for this. What we heard in the background sequence of events from Glastonbury 21st June, there's been many minor catalysts. It's been almost a death by a thousand cuts type of feeling.

"The little things, little things, little things have culminated in this rash act one night, that is, out of this world, shocking, one in a billion type scenario happening. She was a lone female in her house, at midnight, and she got her door kicked down and shot. That's the facts we're dealing with. In terms of who to blame?

"There might be days when you blame yourself. There might be days when we blame Ashley. There might be days when you look at the people who were there. There might be days when you go round the houses. I wouldn't put one single, 'it's that person at that moment'. You could ask me that question now and I could give you a name. And then in an hour I would give you someone else, tomorrow I might give you someone else again."

Ashley Dale in Sefton Park with her Daschund, Dahla
Ashley Dale in Sefton Park with her Daschund, Dahla

Julie said: "I agree, I couldn't say yeah, I blame that person. There's been a catalyst over a few months that been building to this and I'm not going to sit here and name one person. But there has been days over the past year that I am very, very angry at Lee Harrison. Because I feel like without him this wouldn't have happened."

The couple say that while Harrison's underworld connections brought the trouble to Ashley's door, he also jeopardised their chance to get justice.

Rob said: "It's been two-fold. He's been in an integral part of it, but after the incident has happened as well the actions subsequently, we might not have got it to trial. Only for as the trial come out the recovery of Ashley's phone at the scene and piecing that together.

"This is not our opinion on it, there's numerous contacts been made by the police force to just get a straight answer out of him and he's uncooperative. If we hadn't have got to a trial we could have been blaming him for not helping. But we got to trial, we've got convictions, we have got to try and keep moving forward the best we can. It's going to be a brand new existence for us now.

"Our old lives are dead, our old lives are gone anyone round us, we might as well have died that night as well because a big part of us has gone."

Julie added: "It's very important but again people talk about justice. And I get justice is making these people pay for what they have done. However in my eyes I don't feel like there'll ever be justice for me, or for Ashley. Because justice is this would never have happened."

Witham, Barry, Zeisz and getaway driver Joseph Peers, 29, were each convicted of Ashley's murder, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life. Ian Fitzgibbon, 28, was cleared of all charges and Kallum Radford, 26, was acquitted of one count of assisting an offender.

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