Ian Fitzgibbon has denied that shots were fired outside Rikki Warnick's home following a balloon release in his memory, less than a month before Ashley Dale was killed.
The Knowsley Council worker died aged 28 after being shot in the abdomen and collapsing in her back yard on Leinster Road in Old Swan shortly after midnight on August 21 last year. Five men are currently on trial at Liverpool Crown Court accused of her murder.
James Witham has admitted kicking down the door of her house, where she was spending the evening alone with her dachshund Darla, and spraying the property with bullets from a Skorpion submachine gun. The 41-year-old is expected to claim he did not see or hear Ashley and was instead attempting to "send a message" to her boyfriend Lee Harrison, who was not present at the time.
READ MORE: Live updates from Ashley Dale murder trial
Fitzgibbon, who is also accused of Ms Dale's murder, continued to give evidence to the jury for a second day today, Tuesday. Paul Greaney KC, prosecuting, asked him under cross-examination events on the night of July 30 2022 following a balloon release in memory of a man called Rikki Warnick.
His death was said to have been a source of tension in the period before Ashley's death. Mr Greaney said: "That night there was – as Ashley reports it – a firearms discharge, Ashley refers to it a number of times.
"She says 'it’s heavy, Lee's saying it weren't him'. It seems Ashley is referring to a rumour that someone was with Dusty (Jordan Thompson) and Lee had been denying it.
"She goes on to say 'Branch (Niall Barry) weren't there, it was only Zest (Sean Zeisz) and Ian'. Do you see that?
"She’s reporting, in context, that at the time of the firearms discharge, you had been there. There being the home of Rikki’s mum.
"You’d been there with Zest. On August 6, Ashley reported what she had been told by Dusty himself about this."
Mr Greaney played the voice note which he had been referring to, sent by Ashley to a friend, to the court. In it, she said: "Dusty shouldn't have done that outside Rikki's.
"Someone rang him and said Zest's in Rikki's. People were saying he was with someone, but he wasn’t.
"He wasn't with anyone. He was on his own.
"He’s actually said this to me himself. He’d gone over to Rikki’s.
"He probably was gonna do something if he seen Zest. It’s bad like, he shouldn't have done it.
"He’s totally in the wrong. He said he seen (redacted) and went over to them on a bike and let that thing off and said 'tell Zest that’s for him'.
"After he’s done it, he’s went back over to the estate. Lee ‘s head was gone when he come in here that night.
"Lee’s rang me and said 'I'm coming home, I'm never coming up here again'. I was just like, it’s f****** heavy.
Mr Greaney said of this: "Ashley is reporting having been told by Dusty he had discharged a firearm, saying 'tell Zest that’s for him', near to the home of Rikki Warnick’s mother. Ashley was reporting you had been there with Zest, were you there when that happened?"
Fitzgibbon replied: "I was in Rikki’s mum’s with a lot of people that day, yeah. I’d been there every day since he died."
When Mr Greaney asked whether he was with Zeisz, he added: "Yeah and many other people. All our mates."
The prosecutor then said: "Did you become aware that a firearm had been discharged in the area?"
Fitzgibbon responded: "There was rumours. One of our friends, Connor Ashton, went to get a McDonalds.
"He came back to Rikki's mum's and said Dusty jumped off a bike with something and said 'tell Zest that’s for him'. There wasn't a discharge of a firearm.”
Mr Greaney continued: "That day when you were there at Rikki Warnick’s family home with Zest and others, someone reported Dusty had jumped out with something?"
Fitzgibbon said: "Never reported to me, he just came into the back garden at Rikki’s mum’s where we were sitting and told everyone. Everyone become aware of that."
Mr Greaney put to him: "Dusty doing something like that on such a significant day marked a significant increase in the temperature of the dispute."
Fitzgibbon replied: "No, Dusty and Sean were arguing over me cousin Olivia (McDowell, Zeisz's former girlfriend). There was no dispute."
Mr Greaney: "Was there a belief that Lee Harrison had also been involved in that incident?"
Fitzgibbon: "No, he would never go over to Rikki’s and do something like that. He’s a lovely lad and he was friends with Rikki and all of us."
Mr Greaney told a jury of five men and seven women during the prosecution's opening last month that Witham and "driver" Joseph Peers, were "dispatched" to assassinate Harrison and "leave no witnesses". They had allegedly received their orders from Niall Barry, Sean Zeisz and Fitzgibbon – who were said to have been "directing operations" from the Pilch Lane flat.
The court heard that, at around 11.40pm on August 20 2022, two men approached Ashley’s white Volkswagen T-Roc car – which was parked outside the house – and slashed its tyres, causing the alarm to sound, in an effort to "lure" the occupants out. But it is thought Ashley believed the alarm had been set off by heavy rain and did not leave her house.
Mr Greaney said: "The men who had damaged the car were not deterred. Fifty minutes later, at about 12.30am, they returned. This time, they were not to be diverted from their intention to kill. One of the men approached the front door of 40 Leinster Road and he kicked it in. Ashley plainly became aware of what was happening. She screamed and fled towards the back door of the house, but the man entered the house and he pursued her.
"He was armed with a machine gun and opened fire. Ashley was struck by a bullet – it passed through her abdomen, causing catastrophic damage."
Mr Greaney said that "certain events at Glastonbury Festival" in June 2022 had "played an important part" in the alleged motive behind the attack, adding: "Ashley Dale and Lee Harrison, her boyfriend, attended the festival, as did at least four of the defendants – Sean Zeisz, Niall Barry, Ian Fitzgibbon and James Witham. A group of other young men from Liverpool were also present, one of whom was a person called Jordan Thompson – who was known as Dusty.
"Lee Harrison seems to have had an association with the group of which Dusty was part. Whilst at the festival, Sean Zeisz was assaulted and his attackers included Jordan Thompson.
"This attack appears to have occurred because Sean Zeisz was, as it was later expressed, arguing with everyone for Niall Barry – who was known as Branch. To compound the loss of face for Sean Zeisz, in the aftermath of the assault his girlfriend – a woman called Olivia, known as Liv, McDowell – stayed with the group of which Jordan Thompson, Lee Harrison and Ashley Dale were part.
"It is clear that Sean Zeisz felt deeply humiliated from what had happened at Glastonbury." The court also heard that Barry then sided with Zeisz, with this "fresh" dispute having compounded a "separate and longstanding antagonism towards Lee Harrison". Mr Greaney said: "Niall Barry used these new events at Glastonbury to reignite that old feud and, as tensions simmered in Liverpool, Niall Barry made a series of threats directed towards Lee Harrison."
Witham, of Ashbury Road in Huyton, Zeisz, of Longreach Road in Huyton, 26-year-old Barry, of Moscow Drive in Tuebrook, 29-year-old Peers, of Woodlands Road in Roby, and 28-year-old Fitzgibbon, of Heigham Gardens in St Helens, have pleaded not guilty to murdering Ashley Dale, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, namely a Skorpion submachine gun, and ammunition with intent to endanger life. Witham has admitted the lesser charge of manslaughter.
A sixth defendant – 26-year-old Kallum Radford, of Trentham Road in Kirkby – denies assisting an offender. The trial, before Mr Justice Goose, continues.