Belfast Telegraph

Hazel Stewart's battle for murdered first husband's pension put on hold

National Crime Agency seek court order to force double killer to repay police husband's pension funds

By Alan Erwin

Double killer Hazel Stewart's legal battle over police pension benefits inherited from her murdered first husband has been put on hold.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) was due to go before the High Court next week to seek an order for her to repay funds she gained following the death of Trevor Buchanan.

But the civil action was taken out of the lists today due to ongoing difficulties in securing legal aid for the former Sunday School teacher to defend the action.

A judge was told issues have been raised about the financial circumstances of her second husband, retired police superintendent David Stewart.

Despite being named as a joint respondent in the proceedings, there is no suggestion whatsoever of any wrongdoing by Mr Stewart.

The case centres on finances which have since been tied up in the couple's family home.

Hazel Stewart, 51, is serving a minimum 18-year jail sentence for murdering Constable Buchanan, 32, and 31-year-old Lesley Howell, the wife of her ex-lover Colin Howell.

Attempts to recover money from the mother-of-two under proceeds of crime legislation have now been adjourned twice.

The hold-up in gaining legal aid centres on requests for her current husband's financial details to be included on the funding application form.

Hazel Stewart's lawyers dispute that the information is required.

In court today barrister Eugene McKenna confirmed: "The application still has not been dealt with by the Legal Services Commission.

"They have raised an issue about my client's husband, who is a co-defendant, his financial circumstances."

Mr McKenna contended that those details were not relevant because David Stewart has a "clear contrary interest" in the case.

The court heard how, if the legal aid request is ultimately refused, that decision will go to an appeal.

With no objection raised by the NCA, Mr Justice Treacy agreed to adjourn the case. He is to review the situation again next month.

The bid to recover money from Stewart comes as she continues to prepare a second attempt to clear her name.

She was unanimously convicted of both killings by a jury at Coleraine Crown Court in March 2011.

The victims were found in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock, Co Londonderry back in May 1991.

Police originally believed they had died in a suicide pact after discovering their partners were having an affair.

They were in fact murdered before their bodies were arranged to make it look like they had taken their own lives.

Nearly two decades passed before dentist Howell, 55, suddenly confessed to both killings.

He pleaded guilty to the murders in 2010 and was ordered to serve at least 21 years behind bars.

Howell also implicated his former lover in the plot and gave evidence against her at her trial.

Stewart's legal team have sent her case to a body which  examines potential miscarriages of justice.

They want the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer her conviction for the murder of Lesley Howell back to the Court of Appeal.

Defence lawyers intend to introduce fresh psychiatric and psychological evidence as part of the wide-ranging attempt to clear her name.

Separate efforts are also being made to overturn a verdict that she killed Trevor Buchanan as part of the same plot.

Read more:

The Fall's Bronagh Waugh: I'd play killer Hazel Stewart in TV drama 

Convicted double killer Hazel Stewart's first appeal on murder verdict abandoned 

Dogs and hens used to comfort female prisoners in Northern Ireland

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