Thursday 14 December 2017

Hazel Stewart loses appeal over killing of ex-lover’s wife

David Stewart husband of Hazel Stewart with Hazels daughter, Lisa, and son Andrew arrive at Belfast high court. Photo: PA
Hazel Stewarts, daughter, Lisa, arrives at Belfast high court to hear her mothers murder appeal. Photo: PA
Colin Howell confessed to murdering his wife Lesley (pictured) and his lover's husband Trevor Buchanan
Colin Howell's US-born wife may be questioned again by detectives who re-opened the investigation into the death of Pc Trevor Buchanan

David Young and Deric Henderson

A FORMER Sunday school teacher's bid to overturn her conviction for murdering the wife of her ex-lover has failed.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast refused Hazel Stewart's appeal against her conviction for the murder of Lesley Howell in Coleraine, Derry, in 1991.

Stewart was also found guilty of murdering her policeman husband, Trevor Buchanan, as part of a joint enterprise with her former lover, Colin Howell.

The 49-year-old former playgroup assistant dropped her appeal over that conviction ahead of the start of today's hearing.

Refusing the appeal over Mrs Howell's murder, Lord Justice Malachy Higgins said: "There is no reason to doubt the safety of this conviction."

After a morning of submissions by defence and prosecution lawyers, the three judges took less than 10 minutes to come back with their decision.

Lord Justice Higgins said they would provide a full written ruling at a later date.

Stewart, formerly of Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, was sentenced to 18 years for the murders after a high-profile trial in the town two years ago.

One legal route left open to the mother-of-two could see her defence team appeal against the length of the tariff handed down by Justice Anthony Hart.

Her ex-lover Howell, a once-respected dentist and lay preacher, is serving a 21-year sentence after pleading guilty to gassing their spouses as they slept.

For almost 20 years, police believed the pair took their own lives in a bizarre suicide pact until Howell, apparently wracked by guilt, sensationally confessed to elders in his church.

Howell was the star prosecution witness against Stewart at her trial at Coleraine Crown Court in February 2011.

Constable Buchanan, 32, and Mrs Howell, a 31-year-old award-winning nurse and mother of four, were found dead in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in a garage behind a row of houses known as the Twelve Apostles in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry.

Police thought they had died in a suicide pact because of the distress of their spouses' affair.

Howell and Stewart, who split up acrimoniously five years after the murders, covered up the crimes and carried their dark secret for almost two decades.

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