Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Double murderer runs up £120k bill

Hazel Stewart is serving a minimum 18-year sentence for her part in the killing of her husband and her lover's wife

Double murderer Hazel Stewart's defence costs have so far cost the taxpayer almost £120,000.

Even though she lived in a luxurious detached house set in its own grounds outside Coleraine, Co Londonderry, she claimed her entitlement to legal aid to pay for two failed attempts to prove her innocence.

Stewart, 50, is serving a minimum 18-year sentence for her part in the killing of her policeman husband Trevor Buchanan, 32, and her lover Colin Howell's wife Lesley, 31, in May 1991. She has hired a new legal team to launch a second appeal to challenge her convictions.

But it has emerged that defence costs for the preliminary process and her original trial, which lasted 15 days at Coleraine Courthouse two years ago, have already reached £118,143.80. This does not include legal fees for Crown Counsel which were £100,309.

Details emerged after a Freedom of Information request and disclosed that Stewart's legal representation at the Magistrates' Court before she stood trial cost £15,433.74. Her Crown Court defence fees were an additional £102,710.06, according to the Legal Services Commission.

Details of her costs for a failed Appeal Court challenge in January this year have yet to be revealed. Stewart's legal team is now preparing to return to the High Court, possibly later this year, to launch a fresh bid to quash her convictions. Her co-accused, dentist Colin Howell, 53, was jailed for a minimum 21 years and is in Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim after he pleaded guilty to the two murders.

Stewart, a mother of two who is being held at Hydebank on the outskirts of south Belfast, lived with her second husband, a former police chief superintendent David Stewart, at Ballystrone Road three miles outside Coleraine where she was first arrested by detectives in January 2009 - just hours after Howell confessed to the elders in his Barn Christian Fellowship at his home near Castlerock.

The pair plotted to murder their spouses in May 1991 by gassing them with carbon monoxide. Howell then staged managed the deaths to make it look as if they had taken their own lives.

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 fumes in a garage behind a row of houses known as the Twelve Apostles, high above Castlerock. Howell, a once respected lay preacher first gassed his wife as she slept on the sofa of their house in Coleraine using a hosepipe connected to his car. He then drove her body to the far side of the town, where he murdered Constable Buchanan in his home by the same method.

Stewart was waiting for him and later destroyed the hose by burning it on an open fire at the house in Coleraine's Mountsandel area. The dentist then drove to nearby Castlerock and set up the suicide scene.

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