Belfast Telegraph

Double killer Hazel Stewart may finally appear in the witness box

Double murderer Hazel Stewart could take to the witness box in an attempt to overturn her conviction.

It is understood Stewart’s legal team have submitted papers to appeal against her conviction earlier this month.

Stewart is serving 18 years in prison for the 1991 murders of her then husband Trevor Buchanan and her love rival Lesley Howell, then wife of dentist and co-conspirator Colin Howell.

Mr Buchanan, a 32-year-old policeman and Mrs Howell (31), were found in a fume-filled car in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Londonderry.

Police thought they had died in a suicide pact — triggered by their spouses' infidelity — until 18 years later when Howell confessed to elders in his church that he murdered them and stage-managed the scene. He pleaded guilty to the murders last year and is serving 21 years in prison.

The application for leave to |appeal Stewart’s conviction was received by the courts ahead of the four-week deadline subsequent to her sentencing.

A judge will consider whether there are sufficient grounds for allowing a full appeal hearing to take place. If the appeal proceeds, it is unlikely to be heard before Christmas.

And it has been suggested the mum-of-two could take the stand for that appeal, despite opting not to during her trial.

If she does, she will be following in the footsteps of ‘Black Widow’ killer Julie McGinley.

McGinley took to the witness box in 2006 in a bid to overturn her life sentence with a 15-year tariff for the murder of her husband Gerry in 2000.

She refused to give evidence at her jury trial but at her appeal she wrote a statement dated August 24, 2005, which her legal team introduced as new evidence and which she was cross-examined on. But judges upheld her conviction and also her tariff of 15 years without parole.

The jurors in Stewart’s 15-day trial at Coleraine Crown Court agreed that she knew about the murder plan in advance and, in the case of her husband, actively facilitated his killing by ensuring he was drugged and allowing Howell into her home to commit murder.

They found her guilty on two counts of murder.

Howell appeared as a Crown witness against her during four days of compelling testimony.

Stewart’s current husband, ex-police chief superintendent David Stewart, and her children Lisa (28), and Andrew (27), are standing by her. They said in a television interview they believed their mother was not guilty of the murders and that she was manipulated by Howell.

Meanwhile, other reports say Stewart feels extremely alienated at Hydebank Wood Women’s Prison where she is serving her sentence, and has taken to walking dogs on the site to lift her spirits. She is said to be engaging in a ‘dog socialisation’ scheme with animals Heidi and Sailor who live at the jail and are cared for by the prisoners.

A Prison Service spokeswoman confirmed dog socialisation is very much an ongoing project at Hydebank, aimed at encouraging social interaction among inmates.

Ex-Hydebank governor Austin Treacy, who championed the scheme, said: “It was one of my officers, an ex-police officer, who had two therapy dogs herself and started bringing them in in her spare time.”

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