Convicted murderers tortured woman before burning her alive in car, inquest hears

Killer threatened to attack and rape a woman around a month before he murdered Vietnamese mother-of-two

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 28 May 2019 23:26 BST
CCTV shows final moments Quyen Ngoc Nguyen is seen alive before her body was found burned in a car

An inquest has been launched into how two convicted killers were able to subject a woman to four hours of torture and rape before burning her alive in a car.

Stephen Unwin and William McFall murdered Vietnamese mother-of-two Quyen Ngoc Nguyen in Sunderland on August 15, 2017.

Forensic evidence presented to the court in April last year found it was likely she was still alive when they set fire to the car they had placed her in.

The pair, who were convicted of the 28-year-old’s murder and sentenced to full-life terms in April last year, had previously committed separate murders and met while in prison for those offences.

They met Ms Ngoc Nguyen while working as handymen on several flats she was renting out, their trial at Newcastle Crown Court heard.

An inquest into her death began on Tuesday at Sunderland Coroners’ Court after coroner Derek Winter decided it was necessary to look into whether the police and probation service missed opportunities to prevent the murder.

The court heard Unwin, of Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland, was released from jail on licence on 20 December, 2012, with Northumbria Police receiving 26 “items of intelligence” between his release date and the murder of Ms Ngoc Nguyen.

Detective Inspector Edward Small told the court one of those items related to a complaint from a woman that, on 2 July, 2017, Unwin had sent her a Facebook audio message threatening to “smash her jaw in” and take turns with another man to rape her.

The court heard the complainant in that incident had mentioned to officers over the phone the fact Unwin had served prison time for murder.

The officer who looked into the complainant’s report the following day, PC Sarah Strong, told the inquest she “can’t remember” whether she was aware the alleged offender was a convicted murderer at the time.

Pc Strong said it was probable she would have only briefly read the force’s report on Unwin before speaking with the complainant on 3 July, 2017, due to the time pressure caused by having to investigate numerous cases on a day-to-day basis.

She told the inquest the alleged victim had not taken the complaint any further, and the investigation effectively ended then.

Stephen Unwin was convicted of rape and murder and John McFall was convicted of murder
Stephen Unwin was convicted of rape and murder and John McFall was convicted of murder (Northumbria Police)

Asked whether an alleged threat from a convicted murderer should have prompted more action, PC Strong said: “Unfortunately these types of threats are not uncommon and are the kind of things that people do say on Facebook.”

Mr Small said a change in how the force logged “flags”, meaning relevant intelligence, regarding prisoners out on licence would have meant incidents like Unwin’s alleged threat were not automatically passed to probation services.

From 2013 the force operated a system where flags on an on-licence offender’s record would be passed to probation officers through the force’s Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa).

But he said that, in a bid to reduce workload, from April 24 2015 warnings about an offender’s behaviour would have to be reported to probation officers through a police officer at their own discretion.

Mr Small said that, in December last year, Northumbria Police introduced a system whereby flags against an offender would be passed to a “multi-agency safeguarding hub”, as well as to probation services through the investigating officer.

Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Laverick told the inquest that, despite the change in 2015, a message on Unwin’s report incorrectly said flags would be passed on to probation through Mappa.

Quyen Ngoc Nguyen, 28, had two young children
Quyen Ngoc Nguyen, 28, had two young children (Northumbria Police)

Discussing the scope of the inquest, which is expected to last nine days, the coroner said he will consider whether the killers’ levels of risk were properly assessed.

He said witnesses will also be questioned on whether information relevant to a “potential recall” of the men before Ms Ngoc Nguyen’s death was brought to the attention of the relevant parties.

The inquest continues.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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