Belfast Telegraph

£274,547: What the public paid to defend killer Karen Walsh, who battered an OAP to death

By Rebecca Black

More than a quarter of a million pounds of public money has been spent defending a brutal murderess who battered a frail pensioner to death with a crucifix.

And the staggering total is set to rise substantially as it does not include the legal aid bill for Karen Walsh's appeal, which failed earlier this year.

Walsh (48) was jailed in 2011 for killing her pensioner neighbour Maire Rankin at her home in Newry, Co Down, in 2008.

The 81-year-old suffered up to 15 broken ribs and had been beaten with a crucifix given to her as a wedding gift. Evidence of a sexual assault - thought to have been carried out to cover the killer's tracks - was also discovered.

Mrs Rankin was found dead by her family on Christmas morning.

Walsh - a Galway-born pharmacist - is currently serving a minimum 20-year prison sentence for the savage attack. The sentence was one of the longest minimum jail terms for a female killer in Northern Ireland.

Through legal aid payments, the State has shelled out nearly £275,000 defending Walsh - and this is set to rise even further after she was granted legal aid for her ill-fated appeal.

The Court of Appeal was told earlier this year her legal bid had "absolutely no merit".

Walsh was granted funding for her appeal on June 25 for two counsel and one solicitor.

The appeal was abandoned by notice on August 6.

DUP MLA Lord Morrow uncovered the costs through an Assembly question, and said he would continue to press to find out how much legal aid for the appeal cost.

In response to his question, Justice Minister David Ford revealed that the total fees paid so far - not including appeal costs - are £158,037.47 (solicitor), £38,238.92 (Junior Counsel), £18,159.00 (Leading Junior Counsel) and £60,111.90 (Senior Counsel), totting up a total bill of £274,547.29.

The cost of more lawyers who advocated for the killer during her ill-fated attempt at appealing has yet to be added to the bill.

On June 25 senior judges in Belfast rejected all grounds of appeal.

Claims that the jury was misdirected on DNA evidence, the time of death, the intention of whoever carried out the attack and Walsh's level of intoxication were dismissed.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan confirmed in June: "We have no sense of unease about the safety of this conviction."

Lord Morrow said he was astounded when he learned of how much had been spent on Walsh's case. "The substantive case is well in excess of a quarter of a million and this does not include appeal costs, of which I have requested an estimate," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"In respect of the core issue, the whole process of granting of legal aid needs to be closely examined. Defences and appeals must be grounded in fact and not speculation," he said. "These cases need to be scrupulously scrutinised to ensure there is meritorious question of defence and appeal.

"It must also be borne in mind this defendant is independently asset-wealthy. Indeed her case was the turning point in asset-wealthy individuals being made partially liable for their defence costs. I can only imagine what the victim's family make of this appalling flow of money being utilised to fight a case which was never going to alter in decision.

"Their hurt is insurmountable, yet as in all such matters, their welfare falls far down in the list of justice priorities.

"It is little wonder the legal aid bill in Northern Ireland is running at well over £100m when fees in this individual case are approaching the astronomical figure of £300,000 and may well increase significantly before the outcome is finalised."

Speaking after Walsh's appeal was thrown out in June, Mrs Rankin's family said the six-and-a-half-year legal process has taken an "immense toll" on them.

"There is a very evil, dangerous person who seems to have manipulated every aspect of the court system," said daughter Brenda Rankin. "It seems that Karen Walsh has been pulling the strings of the legal system... and they have indulged her at every whim."

Belfast Telegraph


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