Murder accused 'was in relationship' with victim, court told

Family and friends of Quyen Ngoc Nguyen outside Newcastle Crown Court.
Family and friends of Quyen Ngoc Nguyen outside Newcastle Crown Court.

A man who is on trial for the murder of a mum who was raped then burned alive has told jurors he was in a relationship with the woman and had nothing to do with her death.

Maintenance worker Stephen Unwin had told jurors he developed a friendship with Quyen Ngoc Nguyen through doing repairs on properties she rented out and that they just "clicked" before "one thing led to another."

Shiney Row, where her body was found.

Shiney Row, where her body was found.

The 40-year-old, who was out on life licence from a previous killing at the time, said he had made "bad choices" in the past but had then turned his life around.

Unwin and former cellmate William McFall are jointly accused of killing Miss Nguyen, who was known as Anna, after holding her captive at a house for four hours.

After her horror ordeal last August, she and her Audi A4 were dumped and set on fire on a dirt track near Sunderland, jurors have heard.

The 28-year-old may have been still alive when the blaze was started and could only be identified through dental records.

Quyen Ngoc Nguyen died in August last year.

Quyen Ngoc Nguyen died in August last year.

Unwin, 40, of St. Oswald's Terrace, Houghton, and McFall, 51, of Waterloo Road, Blackpool, both deny rape and murder.

'One thing led to another'

Giving evidence from the witness box at Newcastle Crown Court today, Unwin has denied he had anything to do with Miss Nguyen's rape or murder.

He told the court he had first met Miss Nguyen in around April 2017 when he was asked to show her around a rental property on behalf of an agent he was working for.

Unwin said they kept in touch, would meet for coffee and that he started doing work on properties she was renting out after they "built up a trust".

He said the relationship then started to become personal in around May.

Unwin told jurors: "She said she was having lots of issues with her ex partner. She found Englishmen were more polite, stuff like that."

Uwin said in evidence that Miss Nguyen started visiting his home, met his child and he met her young son.

He said it was in around June "one thing led to another" and their friendship became physical.

Unwin said Miss Nguyen was "involved in the production of illegal substances" through cannabis farms, which grew in some of the properties she rented out, and that he found plants of the drug growing at one place he went to carry out work.

Unwin told jurors he had "made a lot of bad choices" when he was a younger man but added: "I have became a better man, I have turned my life around since the past."

Jurors told of defendants' 'bad character'

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 convicted 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.

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 and attacked 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.

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

In May 1996 he had broken 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.

Single mum 'walked into a trap'

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

The court had heard the victim 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".

Mr Hill said some of the properties she was involved in 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 "tiny" single mum 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.

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 her 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.