James "Jimmy" Ashley had a reputation for being cold and calculating, a man who used violence as a tool to get a job done.

Police knew him as a man who rarely showed emotion and considered him dangerous. His family and friends saw him as a much-loved son, brother and father, who was a "gentleman of gentlemen".

He could well have been familiar with the world of violence and drugs as early as his childhood, as he grew up in an area of Liverpool, the Dingle, which had a history of criminal activity based on the drugs trade.

At that time, it was well known for the turf wars that took place between rival cocaine gangs.

Already toughened up in his teenage years in Liverpool, Mr Ashley moved down south in his late 20s.

He headed for Eastbourne, to work as a bouncer in a nightclub, and settled there building contacts and becoming a familiar face round town.

He spent many years in and out of work as a bouncer or a labourer.

It was during his time working on the south coast that he became known as a hard and violent man.

In 1993, this penchant for violence led to him facing murder charges after he punched father-of-three, David Hitchmough, 41, to death, during a pub brawl at the Bourne Inn, Pevensey Road, Eastbourne.

Mr Hitchmough died after one single punch to the head by Mr Ashley during the fight outside the pub.

He became involved in a row with Mr Ashley during the evening over an insulting comment made about Mr Hitchmough's estranged wife Sarah but the fight broke out when they were told to leave the pub.

During his trial, Hove Crown Court heard how Mr Ashley, and his friend Paul Howey, then of no fixed abode, had lashed out at Mr Hitchmough.

Picking a fight with Mr Ashley proved to be fatal.

Mr Ashley was cleared of murder, but convicted of manslaughter and affray. He walked free from Hove Crown Court in June 1993, having served two years in prison on remand, much to the anger of Mr Hitchmough's family.

Less than a year later, in April 1994, Mr Ashley was taken to Eastbourne District General Hospital with stab wounds and serious head injuries following a brawl in an Eastbourne pub.

The following year he was charged with criminal damage after breaking windows at the Sherlock Holmes pub in Eastbourne, where he lived at the time.

In January 1998, detectives suspected him of being part of a gang of drug dealers. Officers linked him to the stabbing of a man during a brawl in Eastbourne, although five months after his death, an independent inquiry found "no evidence" he was involved and had in fact tried to pull the offender from his victim.

Mr Ashley moved to St Leonards, near Hastings, where he met his teenage girlfriend, Caroline Courtland-Smith, in a seafront bar.

She would often stay the night at Ashley's flat and she was with him on the night police decided to bring him in for questioning.

He was shot dead in front of her as he stood naked by the side of his bed in the dark.

Yesterday, Judge Mrs Justice Rafferty described Mr Ashley as "a violent, dangerous and ruthless drugs dealer". She said: "He did not walk alone, such men never do."

His family hit back and said Mr Ashley's two children were now planning to sue the force for compensation for the loss of their father.

His brother Tony, 32, said: "Jimmy had no convictions for drugs. I feel he is being maligned. He is being tried and convicted after they executed him."

His sister Pauline Ashley, 38, said: "We still mourn the unacceptable and unnecessary loss of a much-loved son and His mother Eileen, said: "He was my son so to me, of course, he was lovely."