Belfast Telegraph

Double killer's legal aid bill looks set to pass £100k

Quyen Ngoc Nguyen was murdered by William McFall and Stephen Unwin
Quyen Ngoc Nguyen was murdered by William McFall and Stephen Unwin
William McFall
Stephen Unwin
Questions: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson raised concerns over the costs
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A convicted killer from Northern Ireland who murdered a woman while on licence received more than £70,000 in legal aid for his trial.

William McFall was told last year he would never be released after being found guilty of torturing and killing a defenceless Vietnamese mother-of-two.

McFall (51), originally from Greencastle, Co Antrim, and 40-year-old Stephen Unwin murdered nail technician Quyen Ngoc Nguyen in August 2017 and dumped her body in a car before torching it.

It can now be revealed that the legal aid bill for both men is approaching £200,000.

McFall’s defence team received £71,559, while Unwin’s lawyers received £126,401.

As the final bills for the case have not yet been submitted, it is likely McFall’s costs will ultimately top six figures.

The figures were disclosed by the Ministry of Justice after a freedom of information request by the Belfast Telegraph.

Legal aid is the system where the Government pays the cost of lawyers for those who cannot afford legal representation.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the McFall and Unwin bills underlined the need for a full review of the system.

He also cited the Hyde Park bomb case, in which the families of four soldiers killed in the 1982 IRA bombing had to fight for assistance to take a civil case against one of the alleged bombers, John Downey, who denies any involvement.

Sir Jeffrey said: “It will upset many people that these men (McFall and Unwin) have benefited from legal aid and the taxpayer has been left to effectively fund their legal representation.

“It again highlights the difficulties around inconsistencies in the legal aid system.

“We had to fight very hard to get legal aid for the families of the soldiers killed in the Hyde Park bombing who were seeking justice for their murdered loved ones.

“I think that this case highlights yet again why the Government has to look at the legal aid system.”

McFall and Unwin were given whole-life sentences last April after being convicted of murdering Ms Nguyen in the north-east of England.

In both cases it was their second conviction for murder.

In May 1996, McFall killed Greenisland pensioner Martha Gilmore by beating her to death with a hammer.

He brutally attacked his victim after she disturbed him breaking into her home. He was jailed for life and released on licence in October 2010.

Unwin also beat a pensioner to death during a break-in at his home on Christmas Day 1998.

He admitted murder, was sentenced to life and released on licence in December 2012, after having met McFall in prison.

Newcastle Crown Court heard Ms Nguyen had been lured to Unwin’s home in Shiney Row near Sunderland, where McFall lay in wait.

Unwin raped the 28-year-old, who was just 5ft and weighed only 7st. The killers also took £1,000 from Ms Nguyen’s bank accounts, having tortured her for the PINs.

They then set fire to her in her car while she was probably still alive.

The judge told McFall he was “an extremely violent man capable of monstrous behaviour”.

A breakdown of the legal aid payments showed McFall’s barrister costs were £56,071 with a further £15,488 solicitor costs — a total of £71,559.

Meanwhile, the combined cost of Unwin’s barrister and solicitor totalled £126,401.

The Ministry of Justice said the totals were “not reflective” of the final costs for both defendants because some of the bills were still to be paid.

It pointed out that the costs included VAT and disbursements — expenses occurred which, although paid by the Legal Aid Agency to the providers, are then paid to other parties involved in the case.

Sir Jeffrey said the legal aid costs would come under intense scrutiny.

“There is no doubt that many members of the public will look with concern at the growing bill for legal aid within the UK,” he said.

“They will rightly question the money spent on people convicted of very serious crimes, particularly someone who had a conviction for a similar serious crime in the past.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Anyone facing a Crown Court trial is eligible for legal aid, subject to a strict means test.

“Depending on their means, applicants for criminal legal aid can be required to pay contributions up to the entire cost of the defence.”

The Ministry of Justice has committed to reviewing the availability of legal aid for inquests more widely, and has said it intends to publish its findings later this year.

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