Agency bidding to claw back £100k in legal aid paid out for millionaire killer Jimmy Seales
A millionaire killer is being chased through the courts as officials seek to claw back a £100,000 legal aid payment, it can be revealed.
Jimmy Seales is the first high-profile criminal to be served with a Recovery of Defence Costs Order.
The wealthy pig farmer shot dead Philip Strickland almost four years ago in a violent culmination of a simmering feud.
Seales received £100,478 to fund his defence, despite having access to sizeable assets, including land.
Now it can be disclosed that the Legal Services Agency has begun the process of recouping the cash.
The agency, which has responsibility for legal aid in Northern Ireland, was awarded a Recovery of Defence Costs Order earlier this year.
The move has been welcomed by DUP MLA Lord Morrow, who has previously called for wealthy criminals to fund their own defence costs.
"It will come as no surprise that I wholeheartedly welcome this action by the Legal Services Agency," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I would have no issue with legal aid being paid out for defendants in the interests of efficiency on the strict understanding those who are independently wealthy are made liable for costs or a portion of costs, once cases conclude. It is then the role of the agency to seek to have funds recovered."
Northern Ireland has one of the highest legal aid bills relative to its population in the world.
It has topped £100m in six of the last seven years, reaching a record £111.4m last year.
Although spending is predicted to fall to £103.1m in the current year, it will still be 25% over its £82.5m budget.
In recent times the Belfast Telegraph has drawn attention to the huge sums paid out to cover killers' defence costs.
These include a near £500,000 bill for Barry McCarney, who murdered Enniskillen toddler Millie Martin in December 2009.
Today it can be revealed that £642,865 was spent last year on defence costs for six murderers, including Seales.
The others were:
- £98,690 for Jason Weir, a co-accused in the Strickland case;
- £89,079 for Ian Weir, a second co-accused in the Strickland case;
- £82,335 for Stephen McCaughey, third co-accused in the Strickland case;
- £40,435 for Kevin McCartney, convicted of murdering David Neill in September 2012;
- And £231,847 for Fred McClenaghan, convicted of murdering Marion Millican in Portrush in March 2011.
Seales' £100,478 bill will now be recouped through a Recovery of Defence Costs Order.
It follows legislation introduced in 2012 to claw back costs from criminals.
Seales' case is the first time the order has been used against a convicted murderer in Northern Ireland.
It is understood Seales has not objected to the order.
However, the process has been delayed because Seales appealed his conviction. His appeal was dismissed last month.
The legislation does not apply retrospectively, meaning it cannot be used against wealthy killers such as Hazel Stewart and Karen Walsh.
In October 2011, Walsh was jailed for at least 20 years after being convicted of murdering Maire Rankin.
The pensioner was found in her house in Newry on Christmas Day in 2008. She had been beaten with a crucifix and sexually assaulted.
In a recent Assembly question Lord Morrow discovered that £274,547 was paid out in legal aid for Walsh's trial.
How costs for the defence add up
Legal aid: £100,478
Jimmy Seales is serving 15 years after being convicted of murdering Philip Strickland in Comber four years ago.
Seales was described as “the prime mover, director and controller” of the brutal killing in January 2012.
Mr Strickland was shot in the leg at a yard, bundled into the boot of his own car and driven away, then shot in the face at point blank range.
A court heard his murder followed a dispute. Pig farmer Seales claimed it began when he told a man to remove cannabis grown in a shed he owned.
Seales was later stabbed and beaten with iron bars. He blamed Mr Strickland for Facebook comments and offensive graffiti which later appeared.
Legal aid: £89,079
Ian Weir, of Derryboye near Killinchy, pleaded guilty to Philip Strickland’s murder.
In court, he said his father, Jimmy Seales, was present and armed with a shotgun at the time of the killing.
Before his conviction for murder, Weir was a chronic cannabis user.
He admitted spending £250 a week on cannabis and revealed he used to smoke up to 14 joints a day.
Sentencing Weir, the judge said the minimum sentence of 12 years had been reduced to four as he had given evidence against his father.
This co-operation with the court, the judge said, helped to convict his father.
Legal aid: £98,690
Jason Weir, from Raffery Road near Killinchy, is serving a nine and a half year jail term for Philip Strickland’s murder.
He also pleaded guilty to the killing at the outset. However, unlike his brother, Weir did not assist the prosecution by giving evidence against his father Jimmy Seales.
A judge said Jason Weir had greater responsibility for the events than his brother.
He had initiated them by telling his father where Mr Strickland was to be found, and enlisted Stephen McCaughey to the joint enterprise.
Legal aid: £82,335
Stephen McCaughey was jailed for 10 years for his part in Philip Strickland’s murder
A court heard he did not know the victim, but became involved “from a foolish mistaken sense of loyalty” to his friend, Jason Weir.
During the trial it transpired he had taken a call from Weir, asking him to provide back-up in his intended altercation with Mr Strickland.
McCaughey claimed he merely stood and watched as events unfolded.
However, a jury found him guilty as a secondary party.
Legal aid: £40,435
Kevin McCartney stabbed father-of-two David Neill, leaving him to bleed to death in the arms of his daughter.
Mr Neill was stabbed in the back in Craigavon’s Parkmore estate in the early hours of September 16, 2012.
The court heard there had been tension between the pair because of Kevin’s brother Daniel McCartney’s relationship with Mr Neill’s daughter.
The McCartney brothers and a third man went to Mr Neill’s house and in a scuffle, Mr Neill was stabbed.
Kevin McCartney pleaded guilty in March 2014, before his trial was due to get under way.
His brother Daniel was convicted of manslaughter.
Legal aid: £231,847
McClenaghan shot dead his ex-girlfriend at the Portstewart laundrette where she worked in March 2011. The 51-year-old died at the scene.
McClenaghan claimed that he accidentally shot her while attempting to kill himself in front of her. He said his antique double-barrelled shotgun went off accidentally in a struggle.
His original conviction was quashed on a technicality and a retrial ordered.
Last November he was convicted of Marion Millican’s murder a second time. His £231,847 legal aid bill includes £95,256 costs for the initial trial and £136,591 for last year’s retrial.
* All costs include VAT and disbursements