A NEW Zealand judge says he was “astonished” to discover the truth about hitman Robert Graham.
Graham was last week convicted of the attempted knife murder of Law Society chief Leslie Cumming last week.
Judge David McNaughton defended Graham in 1999 when he was accused of drug dealing in New Zealand.
The former lawyer 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.”
Graham, 47, was found guilty of attempted murder of the Law Chief Leslie Cumming in 2006.
He was convicted at the High Court in Edinburgh of repeatedly slashing the Law Chief’s face with a knife.
Detectives believe Graham was paid to carry out the failed attack by one of the solicitors Mr Cumming had investigated as chief accountant for the Law Society of Scotland.
Graham, who was born in Ireland and emigrated to New Zealand aged nine, was accused of supplying LSD and Ecstasy to Auckland clubbers.
But he fled the country before his court appearance. The authorities in New Zealand believe Graham escaped on a fishing boat to Thailand.
Judge McNaughton said: “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.”
Judge McNaughton said Graham insisted he was not a major player on the Auckland drug scene and that he was inclined to believe him at the time.
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 arrived in Britain in 1999 with an illegal passport.
Three years after the attack on Mr Cumming, he was arrested in Hampshire on a unrelated driving offence. A DNA swab linked him to samples from the attack scene.
Five days after being arrested he fled to Australia but was extradited by the UK authorities.
The trial heard that the former tanning salon boss and scaffolder confessed to a workmate that he had been 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.