Belfast Telegraph

Hazel Stewart eyeing fresh appeal as killer's legal aid bill hits £120k

BY LESLEY-ANNE McKEOWN

Double murderer Hazel Stewart's defence has 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 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.

The 50-year-old 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 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, former police chief superintendent David Stewart, at Ballystrone Road, three miles outside Coleraine, where she was first arrested by detectives in January 2009.

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

Constable Buchanan and Mrs Howell, a 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.

Legal aid is the system where the Government pays the cost of lawyers for those who cannot afford to pay.

It is higher in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the world.

Those eligible for representation must prove their disposable income is £234-a-week or less and disposable capital is £3,000 or under. The value of the house in which someone lives is not taken into account.

PROFILE

Hazel Stewart (50) is serving a minimum 18-year sentence for her part in murdering her husband, Trevor Buchanan, and her lover Colin Howell's wife Lesley.

The mother-of-two plotted with Howell in 1991 to gas their spouses with carbon monoxide and make the double death look like suicide.

Howell confessed to the killings in 2009.

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