Two of Ashley Dale's killers were named as potential suspects in the fatal shooting of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, it can now be reported.
Niall Barry and Sean Zeisz were this week convicted of murdering the 28-year-old council worker, who was shot dead in her own home on Leinster Road in Old Swan in the early hours of August 21 last year. James Witham and Joseph Peers were also unanimously convicted of her murder following a seven-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court.
They were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder Ms Dale's boyfriend Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, namely a Skorpion submachine gun, and ammunition with intent to endanger life. Ian Fitzgibbon was cleared of these three charges while a sixth defendant, Kallum Radford, was acquitted of assisting an offender.
It can now be revealed that Barry, Zeisz and Fitzgibbon were all namechecked during the trial of Thomas Cashman, who was convicted of nine-year-old Olivia's murder in March this year. She was killed after being struck in the chest by a bullet fired by the 35-year-old gunman, who had chased drug dealer Joseph Nee into her home on Kingsheath Avenue in Dovecot on the evening of August 22 2022 - the day after Ms Dale was shot dead.
During Cashman's trial at Manchester Crown Court, his legal team sought to introduce evidence concerning others who had been named as potential suspects in the shooting. These included Barry, Zeisz and Fitzgibbon.
In arguments heard in private but summarised in open court in a ruling by Mrs Justice Yip, the defence asked for disclosure of information relating to Fitzgibbon, who was extradited back to the UK in August this year in order to face the jury after being arrested in Spain. The judge said: "The outstanding dispute is in relation to disclosure of information about a man who is believed to have left the United Kingdom around the time of this shooting, having made arrangements to do so the day before.
"As will emerge later in this ruling, the name of this man appears in intelligence as being potentially connected to this shooting. The defence seek disclosure of antecedent information about him, information about whether he did in fact leave the country and about what steps have been taken to find him."
The defence also sought to elicit evidence about a feud involving the family of Joseph Nee. Zeisz and Barry were previously charged with conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm against his brother, Jamie Nee, in relation to a series of messages exchanged on encrypted communications platform EncroChat, although both were acquitted following a separate trial earlier this year.
When spoken to by police following Olivia's shooting, Joseph Nee speculated the attack on him could be linked to an arrest of Barry as he was likely to believe Nee was responsible for it. But the prosecution in Cashman’s trial argued there was evidence which meant the suspects had been ruled out as being the gunman who killed the youngster.
The appearance of Barry and Fitzgibbon did not match the height and build of the shooter as seen on CCTV footage, while telephone and automatic number plate recognition evidence relating to Zeisz excluded him. The defence team had also hoped to introduce evidence which suggested Nee was at odds with the Hillsiders - an organised crime group with whom Ms Dale's boyfriend Lee Harrison was associated with, and of which his close ally Jordan Thompson was said to have been part.
But the prosecution said there was telephone evidence to exclude Thompson via mobile phone evidence, while Harrison had an alibi and there was no evidence of his involvement. The court heard that, during the course of the investigation into Olivia's murder, numerous names were mentioned as being responsible for it - including Cashman’s name being given on multiple occasions.
And the defence's application was dismissed by Justice Yip. She said: "The issue in this case is whether Mr Cashman was the gunman."
These legal discussions and the ruling had been placed under reporting restrictions by Justice Yip. However, this order has now lapsed at the conclusion of proceedings against Barry and Zeisz - meaning the details can now be published.
Their trial for drugs and firearms offences in May this year heard of messages exchanged between the users of the handles "FrostySocks" and "BeigeSalad", which Liverpool Crown Court heard were Zeisz and his brother Stephen, on EncroChat. One discussion was said to have concerned a motorcycle which had been stolen from the former, with the Nees having been blamed for the theft.
Beige Salad said in one text: "Lad, these (racially offensive term) flying round on a Bultaco."
Frosty Socks then responded: "Gonna buy a car ballied up and ram them off it. Was it a Bultaco, for real?"
Beige Salad: "That the bike lad?"
Frosty Socks: "Reckon Spud been grafting for the Nees on Kenny."
Beige Salad: "Our lad in Spain said Zest Bultaco off the (racially offensive term). Strong chance that your bike tho."
Sean Zeisz said during his evidence that his blue Bultaco motorbike was stolen shortly before Christmas 2017, and that it had been rumoured that the Nees were responsible. Jurors were also told during this trial that he suffered a serious head injury after being hit by a car in Spain in 2018.
Zeisz was celebrating his dad's 60th birthday in Alicante when he was struck by the vehicle at a zebra crossing, suffering a fractured skull as a result. This left him with cognitive issues, memory problems and an IQ of only 69.
He described from the witness box how he had attended Cardinal Heenan High School in West Derby, but left aged 15. Zeisz then spent a month on a joinery course at college before serving as an apprentice gas engineer for 18 months, but "got into the wrong things" and began selling drugs as an 18-year-old.
But the now 28-year-old, of Ashbury Road in Huyton, refused to name who was behind the handle "BetterTrunk" - later revealed to be Barry - as he "didn't want to be known as a grass". He said of this: "You get terrorised or a hard time, you could get stabbed or shot."
Zeisz similarly refused to name who had been using the pseudonyms "SafeHippo" and "NiceDill". The trial also heard of another message, sent by Barry, which read: "I reckon we blaze both gaffs, run in and wait for them to run out."
Paul Greaney KC, prosecuting, addressed both Zeisz and Barry's convictions in relation to EncroChat during their sentencing today, Wednesday. He said their messaging revealed they were "engaged in serious organised criminality", supplying class A and B drugs "in significant quantities across large parts of the UK".
Their dealing stretched as far afield as Brighton with the assistance of co-defendant Dillon Cain, who used the handle "ButterflySea" and will be sentenced at a later date. Barry - of Moscow Drive in Tuebrook - also sought to "source firearms" including a Skorpion in order to further his criminality, as was heard during his murder trial.
The 26-year-old was shown to have been involved in the supply of more than 40kg of cannabis, half a kilogram of heroin, 28kg of cannabis, 1kg of ketamine and 1kg of amphetamine. These drugs were said to have a "conservative estimate" value of "just over £1.5million", while he also referenced making £100,000 in cash available "to fund transactions at very short notice".
Zeisz meanwhile was linked to the movement of 15kg of cocaine, 6kg of heroin, 13kg of cannabis and 2kg of ketamine. Mr Greaney said these illicit substances had a value of around £686,000.
He added: "Niall Barry and Sean Zeisz were wholesalers of drugs in large quantities of whatever type their customers wanted. Drug dealing on this scale and access to firearms goes hand in hand.
"It is unsurprising that the EncroChat messages revealed that Niall Barry was able to source and supply firearms and ammunition, including firearms of the type which was plain in the attack on 40 Leinster Road. It is important to emphasise that Sean Zeisz was not convicted of any offences in relation to firearms."
Barry was convicted of conspiracy to supply heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, ketamine and cannabis by a jury after this trial, as well as conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon and conspiracy to transfer a prohibited weapon. Mr Justice Goose sentenced him to a total of 30 years behind bars in relation to these offences, although this term will be served concurrently to his life imprisonment with a minimum of 47 years for Ashley's murder.
Zeisz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin, cocaine, ketamine and cannabis. Justice Goose handed him 10 years for these counts, although this will also be served concurrently to his life sentence with a minimum term of 42 years.