Ashley Dale knew the pain of grief, and moreover the pain of grief caused by senseless murder.
She was traumatised by the death of her little brother, Lewis Dunne, who was shot dead at just 16-years-old in a case of mistaken identity, eight years ago this month. But, supported by her loving family, the popular, intelligent young woman with a passion for fashion did not let it stop her from building a bright, positive future.
She could never have foreseen, in her wildest nightmares, that the same fate would befall her.
Ashley was a hard-worker, a career woman with clear goals, hopes and dreams for the future. Her career was on the up, she had been promoted in her job at Knowsley Council's environmental health team, protecting the public from illness and making sure restaurants and takeaways kept up their hygiene and stuck to food safety legislation.
She loved animals, her last picture was a selfie taken with her little daschund, Dahla, as she relaxed on the couch at her home in Leinster Road, Old Swan, on August 20 last year. As midnight came and went into August 21, that property, the modest terraced house that Ashley took such pride in, would turn into a dreadful crime scene. A place where a Skorpion sub-machine gun, an item so out of place in Ashley's or anyone else's home, was fired indiscriminately.
Ashley's bond with her mum, Julie Dale, was as tight as it gets even among mothers and daughters. Julie had Ashley when she was just 16, and despite the obvious challenges of having a child so young, their closeness in age meant they became "best friends".
In an extraordinary, heartbreaking victim personal statement that Julie read to a packed courtroom in Liverpool Crown Court this morning, (November 22) she described the empty space left in her life by Ashley's loss. She said: "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."
Ashley was a woman who loved a music festival, who no doubt had her share of wild nights out, but who also doted on her little sisters and loved to spoil them on overnight stays. As her step-dad, Julie's partner Rob Jones, described it, she had a "homely" side.
According to her dad, Steven Dunne, Ashley was indeed beginning to feel the call of motherhood, and no doubt pictured herself with a family of her own. There was, however, one problem, one millstone around Ashley's neck dragging her away from the picture perfect life she was so close to achieving - her boyfriend, Lee Harrison.
Most people have been unlucky in love, or been in a bad relationship - but the day Ashley met Lee is a day her family will bitterly wish had never happened.
As Julie told the court today: "Ashley’s only crime, that she fell in love with the wrong person. A person who could not keep her safe in life, or offer any help with the investigation that followed, or show any compassion to me or my family but continue to lie and make up reasons. None of which included him."
Whether Ashley considered moving on from Harrison nobody can say, but Steven said she had misgivings about having children with the drug-dealing, jobless organised crime group nominal she had sadly fallen for. In his own victim personal statement, read out today by lead prosecutor Paul Greaney, KC, he said: "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 making 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."
The bitter irony for Ashley's family is that someone whose life seemed so full, so purposeful and so full of joy, was lost to a world full of empty, superficial grievances, devoid of empathy or respect for life. And a world that had absolutely nothing to do with Ashley Dale.
Her physical killer, James Witham, could not even bear to listen as Julie outlined the impact of his actions on her family. He walked out of the dock as Julie said: "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."
It is a small but important comfort to Julie, Steven, Rob and the wider family, that 41-year-old Witham, getaway driver Joseph Peers, 29, and organisers Niall Barry, 26, and Sean Zeisz, 28, will be frail old men if they survive long enough to make a successful parole application. Each man faces more than 41 years before they even stand a chance of breathing fresh air outside a prison yard.
But those years stretch ahead for Ashley's family as well. Those Christmases, those birthdays, those anniversaries of her untimely death. Everyday agonies that will never fully heal.
Life will have its happy moments, there may come a time when the pain is not so unbearably raw. But thanks to a plot concocted by the worst, most parasitic cross-section of our community - it will never have a beloved daughter, sister, grand-daughter and friend called Ashley Dale.