Almost £15,000 in publicly funded legal aid was paid out to solicitors representing crucifix killer Karen Walsh before her case even reached trial.
The money for magistrate court hearings was paid to solicitors from four different legal firms because Walsh — a successful Dublin based businesswoman — kept changing her legal teams.
These fees are just a margin of the overall legal aid cost in the case as they do not include the cost of barristers who were consulted at magistrate court stage or any crown court appearances by her lawyers.
Demands have now been made for Walsh — whose husband Richard Durkin is a high-profile Irish tax consultant — to repay the money.
Walsh is currently serving a minimum 20-year jail term for murdering her Newry neighbour Maire Rankin (81) on Christmas morning three years ago. She had drank a litre bottle of vodka in Mrs Rankin’s house before attacking the mother-of-eight with a crucifix that had been hanging on the wall.
Walsh — who had extensive business interests in Ireland with her husband, owned several properties and lived Monday to Friday in Dublin’s plush Berkeley Court Hotel — changed her legal team on four occasions and was granted legal aid on each occasion.
She has also just launched an appeal against her conviction on legal aid. Justice committee member Maurice Morrow, who uncovered the legal aid costs, has demanded that Walsh repays the money.
“This case gives me a better understanding of how Northern Ireland’s legal aid bill is at ridiculously
high levels. This woman is a woman of some means and I am bewildered as to how she was able to access legal aid,” he said.
A total of £14,505 was paid to legal firms Tiernans, McNamee, McDonnell & Duffy, Kevin Winters & Co and Higgins, Hollywood & Deazle when they represented the mother-of-one during magistrate court hearings before her case was transferred to the crown court for trial.
Mr Morrow said the cost is just the tip of the iceberg as details of the full legal aid payments for the whole case have yet to be released.
“She must repay some or all of this money and I have asked the justice minister if any consideration has been given to Karen Walsh contributing to her legal costs given her financial circumstances,” he said.
The DUP man added: “It is outrageous and completely unacceptable that someone of her means should benefit from legal aid.”
Public funds paid to four law firms representing killer Karen Walsh at magistrate court stage:
McNamee, McDonnell & Duffy: £4,510.01
Kevin Winters & Co £7,024.08
Higgins, Hollywood & Deazle: £963.50