Taxpayer foots £240,000 bill for millionaire killer's failed appeal on murder conviction
A millionaire killer's failed bid to overturn his murder conviction has left the taxpayer with a £240,000 bill.
Jimmy Seales is serving a 15-year prison term for shooting dead Philip Strickland in January 2012. Last month senior judges threw out an attempt to have the conviction examined by the Supreme Court in London.
It has now emerged that Seales' lawyers were awarded £237,254 in legal aid for the appeal.
That sum is on top of the £100,478 legal aid bill for Seales's original murder trial.
When £14,297 costs for pre-trial magistrate hearings are factored in, his total legal aid bill stands at more than £350,000.
The figures were disclosed by the Justice Minister after an Assembly question by DUP peer Lord Morrow.
Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph reported how Seales had been served with 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 not clear if the appeal costs will also be subject to the order.
According to David Ford's answer, solicitor costs totalled £57,254, junior counsel cost £72,000 and senior counsel added £108,000 to the overall bill.
Lord Morrow said the fresh revelations on Seales' legal aid raised questions about whether all the money will be recouped. "Having read the huge fees paid out in legal aid for the various stages of the Seales trial and subsequent appeal, I am now keen to ascertain how a claw-back will occur," he added.
"For example, will efforts be made to recoup all fees or a percentage, and, if so, on what is that percentage based?"
Recovery of defence costs legislation came into effect in October 2012. It allows the Legal Services Agency to seek the recovery of some or all of the costs of legal aid incurred in a criminal case.
Lord Morrow has welcomed the move, saying it was right that wealthy individuals should fund their own defence.
Seales was jailed for at least 15 years for Mr Strickland's murder. His trial heard the murder followed a confrontation with Seales.
The wealthy pig farmer claimed the dispute began when he told a man to remove cannabis being grown in a shed he owned.
Seales was later stabbed and beaten with iron bars.
This was followed by Facebook comments and offensive graffiti about the farmer, for which he blamed Mr Strickland.
The dispute led to a meeting between Mr Strickland and Seales, his two sons, Ian and Jason Weir, and their friend, Stephen McCaughey, at a yard near Comber, Co Down.
Shortly after he arrived at the yard Mr Strickland was shot in the leg. He was then bundled into the boot of his car.
The car was driven onto the nearby Ballydrain Road where he was shot in the face.
A judge said Seales was "the prime mover, director and controller of these wicked events".