Accused murderers formed friendship as cellmates serving life sentences in prison

Quyen Ngoc Nguyen.
Quyen Ngoc Nguyen.

Two men accused of raping and setting fire to a young mum formed their friendship while they were cellmates serving life sentences for separate murders, jurors have heard.

Stephen Unwin and William McFall held Quyen Ngoc Nguyen, who was known as Anna, as their "captive" during a horrific, four-hour ordeal at a house last August before her she and her Audi A4 were dumped and set on fire on a dirt track near Sunderland, it is claimed.

Police at the scene where Quyen Ngoc Nguyen's body was found

Police at the scene where Quyen Ngoc Nguyen's body was found

The 28-year-old nail salon worker's badly burned body was found face down on the back seat when firefighters extinguished the blaze, which was started when Miss Nguyen may have been still alive.

Unwin, 40, of St. Oswald's Terrace, Houghton, and McFall, 51, of Waterloo Road, Blackpool, are on trial at Newcastle Crown Court accused of her rape and murder, which they both deny.

Prosecutor Jamie Hill QC has told jurors about the "bad character" of the two men, which includes them, separately, setting fires and murdering people.

Jurors have been told the men met while serving their life sentences at HMP Swaleside in Kent.

The police cordon.

The police cordon.

The murderers wrote to each other when they were sent to separate prisons until they ended up at the same jail in East Yorkshire, while they were being prepared for release.

During interviews after the pair were arrested over the killing of Miss Nguyen, both men denied any involvement in her murder.

McFall told them, in a prepared statement: "I have a previous conviction for murder.

"I was released on life licence on December 10, 2010, having served 14 years and seven months of a sentence for murder.

"I pleaded guilty to that offence and had no trial.

"I met Stephen Unwin around 2002 in HMP Swaleside on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

"He was serving a life sentence for murder. I again met him in prison in East Yorkshire, when we were both heading for release.

"We lost touch in about 2010 but got back in touch in 2014/15."

McFall, who was known as John, told detectives Unwin, who ran his own property maintenance firm after his release, would hire him to do painting and decorating work at a rate of around £50 per day, while he was claiming benefits.

The killer told police he loved the girlfriend he was seeing at the time and added: "Prison has obviously changed me a hell of a lot, for the better."

He added in his statement: "I have absolutely no knowledge of this offence or any involvement."

The court heard McFall was convicted of murder at Belfast Crown Court in April 1997.

In May 1996 he broke into the home of 86-year-old Martha Gilmore, who had mobility problems, at Station Road, Greencastle and repeatedly hit her with a hammer.

McFall was released on licence in 2010.

During separate interviews, Unwin admitted the victim had been at his house that night but claimed she was "fit and well" when she left a short time later.

He said: "I never hurt her and I have never raped her and neither did John."

Jurors have heard the men now blame each other for the killing.

The court heard Unwin was convicted of murder after he broke into a 73-year-old man's home in Houghton on Christmas Day in 1998.

He attacked the pensioner, then stabbed him in the chest before starting three fires.

Unwin was sentenced to life imprisonment when he pleaded guilty to murder in 1999 and released on licence in 2012.

Prosecutors claim the motive for Miss Nguyen's killing was a combination of "violent, warped sexual fantasy and greed".

The court heard McFall took a smiling selfie of himself and his accomplice, who was driving, in another car after the killing.

And in the days before the murder the men had exchanged a series of shocking, sexually graphic texts including one from McFall asking Unwin "we raping the ***** xxxx".

McFall had also taken a selfie posing with a gas gun on the day of the killing, which was later found and contained heavy traces of the victim's DNA.

Mr Hill also told jurors that the victim, who had met the men through her involvement in rental properties, had been held captive at Unwin's house, where she was raped and "incapacitated".

Mr Hill said a reason for the murder was "depraved sexual lust and financial gain".

The prosecutor continued to say that some of the properties the victim was involved with had been used as cannabis farms and it is claimed the men were involved in stealing crops.

The court heard it is unclear why the single mum, who has been described as "tiny" in stature, visited Unwin's house on August 14 but prosecutors say she walked into a "trap", and was carried out, dying, in a plastic sheet by one of her killers.

Mr Hill said Unwin greeted the victim at the back door, while gesturing for McFall to stay out of sight until she was inside and alone with them.

The prosecutor added: "At various stages McFall and Unwin were alone with Miss Nguyen but for the majority of the time they were both in the house with her."

The court heard DNA, CCTV and strands of circumstantial evidence can shed some light onto the "terrifying" ordeal the victim endured.

Mr Hill added: "The prosecution says that she was sexually abused and raped and also threatened into providing PIN numbers for her two bank cards.

"It may be that they were also after the whereabouts of other cannabis growers.

"When the defendants had finished abusing her, and gained access to her money, they decided to dispose of her, determined to destroy the evidence of what they had been doing."

The court heard the victim's DNA was found inside the Marvel lounge pants Unwin had been wearing and there were traces in McFall's shorts.

Both men deny murder and rape.

The trial continues.