The heartbroken family of Ashley Dale, a council worker who was shot dead at her own home, were gathered at court today ahead of the trial of six men in connection with her death.

The 28-year-old Knowsley Council environmental health officer died after being found dead in her back garden in Old Swan, Liverpool, Merseyside on August 21 last year. 

Ian Fitzgibbon, one of the defendants accused of Ashley’s murder, entered a not guilty plea when the charge was put to him at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday.

The 28-year-old, from St Helens, Merseyside, is one of five men about to go on trial for the murder, with another man accused of assisting an offender.

Detectives said that a gunman fired multiple shots ‘indiscriminately’ through her home and one had hit Ashley in the abdomen. She is not believed to have been the intended target of the shooting. 

Undated family handout photo issued by Merseyside Police of Ashley Dale

Undated family handout photo issued by Merseyside Police of Ashley Dale 

Ashley's mother, Julie Dale (second-left), walked into the Queen Elizabeth II Law Court holding hands with Ashley's sister (left) and her partner Rob Jones (second-right) along with Ashley's father, Steve Dunne (right)

Ashley’s mother, Julie Dale (second-left), walked into the Queen Elizabeth II Law Court holding hands with Ashley’s sister (left) and her partner Rob Jones (second-right) along with Ashley’s father, Steve Dunne (right)

Ashley’s mother, Julie Dale, walked into the Queen Elizabeth II Law Court holding hands with her partner Rob Jones and Ashley’s sister. Her father, Steve Dunne, was also in attendance alongside them and walked in surrounded by other family members.

The five men facing trial at Liverpool Crown Court on charges of murdering Ashley are James Witham, of Huyton, Ian Fitzgibbon, from St Helens, Niall Barry, of Tuebrook, Sean Zeisz of Huyton, and Joseph Peers of Roby.

Witham, 41, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Miss Dale but denies murder. 

Zeisz, 27, Barry, 26, and Peers, 29, were also in the dock and deny Miss Dale’s murder. 

All five also deny conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, a Skorpion sub-machine gun, and ammunition. 

Left to right: Ashley Dales' sister (who has requested not to be named), mother Julie Dale and stepfather Rob Jones arriving at Liverpool Crown Court for the trial of Ian Fitzgibbon, Niall Barry, Sean Zeisz, Joseph Peers and James Witham

Left to right: Ashley Dales’ sister (who has requested not to be named), mother Julie Dale and stepfather Rob Jones arriving at Liverpool Crown Court for the trial of Ian Fitzgibbon, Niall Barry, Sean Zeisz, Joseph Peers and James Witham

Sean Zeisz, of Longreach Road, Niall Barry, of Moscow Drive, and Joseph Peers, of Woodlands Road have also pleaded not guilty to the same charges previously.

A sixth defendant, Kallum Radford, 25, of no fixed address, denies assisting an offender. 

On Monday a prospective jury panel of 18 potential jurors was selected by random ballot, with 12 to be sworn as jurors later to hear the case when the trial begins. 

Trial judge Mr Justice Goose told Liverpool Crown Court the trial is expected to last around six weeks. The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday morning.

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