Inquest hears how probation service department was 'in chaos' before convicted killer murdered Vietnamese mum then burned her body in the back of car

Stephen Unwin, left and William McFall.
Stephen Unwin, left and William McFall.
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A probation officer said her department was “in chaos” when her client raped and murdered a Vietnamese mum before burning her body in the back of car.

Leigh Harberfield was giving evidence at Sunderland Coroner’s Court following the death of Quyen Ngoc Nguyen in Shiney Row in August 2017.

The 28-year-old mum-of-two and nail salon worker was lured to a house nearby by Stephen Unwin and William John McFall, from Blackpool.

Both had served time in prison for murder.

They were convicted of Ms Nguyen’s murder last year, with Unwin also convicted of her rape.

Sunderland coroner Derek Winter has now opened an inquest into her death during which he has said he will hear evidence as to whether or not opportunities were missed to prevent the murder taking place.Ms Harberfield was asked by Mr Winter what was happening to her caseload and the caseloads of her colleagues during the time she was the officer for Unwin and in

the period of time before Ms Nguyen was killed.

“It was escalating,” she said. “Our main difficulties were the volume of traffic.

“We were down to one operating office for the whole of that region. It was chaos.”’

Unwin, 43, and McFall, 52, met while serving their sentences for separate murders in HMP Swaleside.

Ms Harberfield said that Unwin made her aware that he had been communicating with a fellow former offender, although not specially McFall.

“That did not raise any flags because it’s quite usual,” she said. However, the inquest heard that the two killers were working together fixing properties after their release.

“That would not have been acceptable,” she said.

The inquest has previously heard that just the month before the murder there was an incident which a woman called police to say Unwin had sent her messages through Facebook in which he threatened to “smash her jaw in and take turns with his cousin to rape her”.

Ms Harberfield was not aware of the incident and when asked if she would have been “completely shocked” had she known, she replied: “I would have been concerned.

“I would have got him (Unwin) in and we would have had to have the conversation about who she (the complainant) was and what was going on.

“There is no justification for that kind of threat anyway.”

Also giving evidence was Chloe Dixon who was McFall’s probation officer at the time of the killing when he was registered as living in Blackpool.

She said from appointments with McFall that there was nothing to suggest he was communicating with anyone he had met while serving his first sentence.

“He said that he had distanced himself from anyone that he was in prison with,” said Ms Dixon.

“I would never have questioned that he had friends who he was in custody with.”

(Proceeding)