The flurry of vile messages sent by Sean Zeisz to his ex-girlfriend revealed far more than he intended.
Although Zeisz, 28, admitted his involvement in the trafficking of Class A drugs during his trial for the murder of Ashley Dale, he also has a track record of serious violence towards women.
Back in 2016, he was jailed for 16 months for assaulting his ex partner, after forcing her to get into a car during a night out in the city centre. On that journey, in October, 2015, she was punched and bitten in the face.
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In a social media post that went viral at the time, the woman posted an image of her bruised and battered face with the caption: “Wasn’t going to do this but I am because I’m truly sickened to my stomach and believe people need to know that this boy is a monster.”
Fast forward seven years and the evidence suggests little has changed. Zeisz is now facing a life sentence for encouraging and assisting the decision to send “footsoldier” James Witham, 41, to barge into Ashley’s home and spray the property with bullets from a Skorpion sub-machine gun. Zest’s drug dealing partner, Niall Barry, was the “malign influence” behind the plan, the jury heard, but Zeisz was sat beside him in the squalid flat in Pilch Lane, Huyton where the pair directed an attempted hit on Ashley’s boyfriend, Lee Harrison.
The short-tempered gangland thug, nicknamed Zest, has been found jointly responsible for the death of an innocent woman, and his sickening messages to his most recent partner, Olivia McDowell, showed a man easily disposed to intimidating and threatening anyone who crossed him.
Most of the messages included deeply unpleasant threats, such as: “Stay away from me. Golly in your face in front of everyone. Send you home covered in p**”
Another called Miss McDowell “vomit” and a “rat c***”. The most serious threat came in this message: “‘Watch, your t*** are getting it. Gonna cut your t*** off. Mum’s life. Rat”.
This tirade of abuse came after Zeisz got wind that Miss McDowell had been seen with a man called Jordan Thompson, known by the street name ‘Dusty’. Dusty, a gang member affiliated with a Huyton based organised crime group known as the ‘Hillsiders’, was a close friend of Ashley’s boyfriend.
The prosecution case, presented by lead counsel Paul Greaney, KC, was that Zeisz and Thompson were at loggerheads for two main reasons. The first, was an alleged attack on Zeisz at Glastonbury Festival on June 25 last year.
According to messages on Ashley’s phone, Zeisz had been set upon by a man called ‘Wally’, but ‘Dusty hit him too’.
The second, and perhaps most toxic, situation was the proliferation of rumours, which Zeisz admitted he believed, that Dusty had bullied a close friend of his called Rikki Warnick. Mr Warnick died on July 21 last year, having thrown himself under a train.
Under questioning from his own barrister, Adam Davis, KC, Zeisz said he was so furious at Miss McDowell because: “She’s betraying Rikki. She was Rikki’s friend as well. She’s driving round with him. He’s bullied him to death.”
It was perhaps the comment to Miss McDowell, “You choose your side”, that was most telling. According to the prosecution case, a dividing line had been drawn between on the one side, Niall Barry and his organised criminal associates, and on the other Lee Harrison, Jordan Thompson and the Hillsiders.
The final straw may well have been a rumoured incident involved a gun outside the home of Rikki Warnick’s mum, on July 30, following a balloon release in his memory.
Messages on Ashley’s phone suggested Thompson had produced a firearm in front of an unnamed witness near the property, fired it and said “tell Zest that’s for him”.
In those messages, Ashley appeared concerned that “people may think Lee was involved”.
Indeed, on the night of the shooting, Harrison and Thompson were together at a nightclub, although the jury did not hear any evidence that the defendants knew or believed Thompson was at Harrison’s property at the time.
The intricacies of what sparked the evil plot that began on the night of August 20 are not fully clear. But in the words of Mr Greaney, Zeisz was in the mood for serious violence – although he was unwilling to carry it out himself.
He told the jury: “By August last year, the rage of Sean Zeisz was out of control. There’s simply no way to read and listen to his messages [to Ms McDowell] and come to any other conclusion. ‘Proper little trouble causer you mate. You f****** little rat, need to die’. Five days before Ashley’s death. He was up for something terrible to happen.”
Zeisz, Barry, Witham and getaway driver Joseph Peers, 29, were all convicted by unanimous decision of murdering Ashley, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.
A fifth man, 28-year-old Ian Fitzgibbon, was found not guilty of those charges, while Kallum Radford, 26, was cleared of assisting an offender by storing the car used in the shooting.
The four guilty men will be sentenced tomorrow.
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William Turner is a seasoned U.K. correspondent with a deep understanding of domestic affairs. With a passion for British politics and culture, he provides insightful analysis and comprehensive coverage of events within the United Kingdom.