Former lawyer ‘astonished’ by attempted murder conviction

Robert Graham was extradited from Australia

Robert Graham was extradited from Australia

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THE ex-lawyer of a man who attempted to kill a Law Society chief outside his Murrayfield home has said it was “astonishing” his former client had become a “professional hitman”.

Judge David McNaughton represented 47-year-old Robert Graham in 1999 when he was accused of being part of a major drugs ring in New Zealand.

Graham – then using the name Paul Francis McGee – fled the country before he could face charges in an Auckland court of supplying LSD and ecstasy to clubbers.

Now Mr McNaughton has spoken about his former client in the wake of his conviction for the knife attack on Leslie Cumming in January 2006, as fresh details emerged over Graham’s criminal past in New Zealand.

Graham was found guilty of attempted murder at the High Court in Edinburgh last Thursday, while detectives believe he was paid to carry out the failed hit, most likely by one of the crooked solicitors Mr Cumming had investigated as chief accountant for the Law Society of Scotland.

Mr McNaughton said: “No way in a million years would I expect him to turn out to be a professional hitman. It’s astonishing. I remember he was a charming and funny guy who was a good raconteur. He wasn’t a tough man and was terrified of the police.

“The night before his court appearance he called and told me that it wasn’t that he didn’t have absolute confidence in my ability, but he wasn’t coming the next day. Sure enough, he didn’t turn up. I always thought he’d end up on a fishing boat somewhere or be living down south or on the west coast, having simply disappeared.”

The authorities in New Zealand believed Graham slipped out of New Zealand on a fishing boat to Thailand before his court date.

He was accused of supplying LSD and Ecstasy to Auckland’s nightclub set, along with a ring of accomplices. At the time, Judge McNaughton had told the court that he did not know where his client was, adding: “For all I know he could be on a slow boat to China.”

Judge McNaughton said Graham insisted he was not a major player on the Auckland drug scene and he found the story believable.

He added: “He said he liked going to nightclubs and took a bit of drugs like Ecstasy but that after he started hanging about with these people he gradually escalated from using to selling. He certainly wasn’t a down-on-his-luck druggie.

“Something pretty drastic must have happened to him down the years to have turned into a gangland hitman.”

Graham, who was born in Ireland as Paul Francis McGhee before emigrating to New Zealand at the age of nine, finally came to police attention after being arrested in Hampshire in January 2009.

A DNA swab was taken, which proved a match with a sample left by Mr Cumming’s attacker, but Lothian and Borders Police found he had fled to Australia just days after the arrest. He was later extradited back to the UK.

The former tanning salon boss and scaffolder stood trial after denying the attempted murder of his victim under the name of Robert Leiper Graham, which he has used since arriving in Britain in 1999 with an illegally obtained passport.

The trial heard that Graham confessed to a workmate that he was paid £10,000 by a man in a BMW to give a target “a good working over”.

Graham, a martial arts exponent trained in rapid arnis, a Filipino martial art that uses knives and fighting sticks, was convicted of repeatedly slashing Mr Cumming in the face.