Mystery hitman faces jail for law chief attack

A MYSTERIOUS international hitman is facing a lengthy jail term after he was convicted of attempting to murder a senior legal official in Edinburgh nearly six years ago.

Robert Leiper Graham, 46, was found guilty of the frenzied and vicious knife attack on Leslie Cumming, 68, who was deputy chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland. Mr Cumming said he hoped the conclusion of the two-week trial meant “this nightmare has ended”.

The motive for the assault remained uncertain as Graham was remanded in custody to await sentencing next month.

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It was suggested he was a hired hitman who had been paid £10,000 to dish out a “good working over”.

Mr Cumming’s work had involved inspecting law firms’ books and he suspected the attack in January 2006 had been ordered by someone who was disgruntled at an investigation.

The convicted man’s true identity is also still unclear. During his trial, Graham said he had been born Paul Francis McGhee in Dublin, and had taken his current name when he moved from New Zealand to Britain in 1999.

After the verdict, Mr Cumming addressed the media in the same room in the Lothian and Borders Police headquarters in Edinburgh where he had appealed to the public for information at the time of the attack.

“Since then, the family has tried to live an ordinary life, but from time to time we have got updates on the progress in the investigation, so we knew the case had never been closed,” he said.

He praised “police perseverance and professionalism and Crown Office input” in securing the verdict against Graham.

“It was important to me to get that closure and I just want to thank members of the team that were involved in this complicated case for their efforts on my behalf,” he said. “The event was horrific and bloody. Having to explain to the court in such detail as we could recall was traumatic for my wife and I.

“I hope, now the trial is complete and the result is known, that this nightmare has ended for us and we can get back to a normal life.”

After the jury returned its majority verdict at the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday, the prosecutor, Lesley Thomson, QC, the Solicitor-General for Scotland, spoke about the uncertainty surrounding the convicted man’s true identity.

She said: “The Crown is not in a position to say he is either of these people [Robert Graham or Paul McGhee] at this stage.

“The information that the Crown has established so far is that when he left New Zealand, he left with a warrant outstanding there in 1999.

“They have been unable to provide records of him in any name other than Paul Francis McGhee. We have been unable to find that name in Irish records.”

The warrant related to a drugs offence in New Zealand.

At the sentencing hearing, the prosecution will be calling for an order that Graham be deported at the end of his prison sentence, but as yet it is unclear where he would be sent.

“The Crown will require to make further inquiries,” Ms Thomson said.

The trial came almost six years after Mr Cumming was attacked in a lane near his Murrayfield home in 2006.

Graham was caught after he was arrested in Hampshire for drink-driving and his DNA was found to match a sample that had been found under Mr Cumming’s fingernails and on his jacket. By the time the link had been established, Graham had fled to the other side of the world. He was traced to Australia and extradited.

Detective Chief Inspector Keith Hardie said: “Robert Graham thought that by putting some considerable distance between himself and the scene of this appalling, vicious attack, he had evaded justice.

“This is a perfect example of good partnership working, and I must give credit to the many agencies across the world who assisted in the complicated process of bringing Graham back to Scotland to stand trial.

“Without terrific support from our policing colleagues in Australia, we would never have been able to make Graham face the consequences of his actions.

“He is a devious character who has lived a lie for most of his adult life, and there were major concerns he would do his best to continue to evade justice.

“The verdict sends out the message that we will not be put off by the passage of time, and will quite literally pursue people to the other side of the world to bring them to court.”

Mr Hardie added: “The motive [for attacking Mr Cumming] is something that may be the subject of further police investigation and I could not comment any further on that at this time.

“From the outset, his suspicion was that the motive was the work he carried out with the Law Society. We looked at a number of other possibilities, but as the inquiry progressed, we satisfied ourselves that that was the most likely motivation … somebody was really disgruntled by an investigation.”

A spokesperson for the Law Society of Scotland, which had put up half of a £10,000 reward to anyone providing information which led to an arrest, said: “Leslie Cumming was the chief accountant and latterly the deputy chief executive.

“He joined the staff in 1984 and worked tirelessly to improve the regulation of Scottish solicitors. He was a dedicated and popular member of staff and the attack was a great shock to his former colleagues.

“Leslie was determined not to let the attack stop him from living life to the full and he has done that in so many ways.”

Mr Cumming, a qualified chartered accountant, retired from the society in November 2006, and runs his own consultancy.

He recalled during his evidence that on the morning of 23 January, 2006, he had been outside his house unlocking a gate, and when he went back indoors, his wife asked him why he had been running. He said he did not know what she meant and she explained she had heard running footsteps. Nothing more was thought of it and he went off to work, which that day was not in the Law Society’s offices, but in a hotel for team-building programmes.

He arrived home earlier than usual, at about 5pm, and in the darkness he drove his black Jaguar up the lane at the rear of his house to his garage.

He had put the car in the garage and was about to pull down the door when he saw a figure approaching in the gloom.

The person was wearing a balaclava and all Mr Cumming could see was “a circle of pale face”. Without a word being spoken, the man struck him on the side of the face. Mr Cumming thought he had been punched but felt warm blood streaming down his neck and realised a knife had been used.

He was then beaten mercilessly about the face and body before the assailant calmly turned and walked away.

Mr Cumming managed to reach his home and alert his wife, who called an ambulance.

In hospital, doctors found that, although close, none of the stab wounds had struck a vital organ. He was, however, left scarred for life by wounds to his face and body. A doctor said he had been the victim of a “sustained, frenzied, vicious attack”.

In his defence, Graham claimed he had acted as a Good Samaritan and intervened when Mr Cumming was being beaten by another man. But the jury rejected his claims and found him guilty of attempted murder.