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Hazel Stewart's battle to keep murdered husband's police pension is listed for trial

Published 07/01/2016

Hazel Stewart was convicted of murdering her husband Trevor Buchanan and Colin Howell’s wife Lesley
Hazel Stewart was convicted of murdering her husband Trevor Buchanan and Colin Howell’s wife Lesley
Hazel Stewart and husband David during her trial in 2011
Trevor Buchanan
Killer: Hazel Stewart

Convicted double killer Hazel Stewart's legal battle over police pension benefits inherited from her murdered first husband is to be heard in May.

Attempts by the National Crime Agency (NCA) to secure an order for her to repay funds she gained following the death of Trevor Buchanan have been hit by a series of delays.

But a High Court judge has now listed the case for a trial expected to last for two days.

Mr Justice Maguire said today: "It does seem to me there's a very strong public interest in this matter being dealt with (and) with expedition."

Stewart, 52, 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.

Efforts to recover money from the former Sunday School teacher under proceeds of crime legislation have been repeatedly adjourned due to ongoing difficulties in securing legal aid for her to defend the action.

Issues were 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.

Read more: Drama recreates killer Hazel Stewart's court scenes

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

The hold-up over legal aid involves 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 said a final resolution has still to be reached.

He confirmed there was still an issue about whether it is appropriate to take into account David Stewart's resources when assessing his wife's financial means.

Mr McKenna also raised the possibility of a future judicial review challenge against the legal aid authorities.

However, he was backed by an NCA lawyer in pressing ahead to seek a date for the trial.

Agreeing to list the case for May 4-5, Mr Justice Maguire also cautioned: "What may happen between now and then I'm not going to try and predict."

The bid to recover money from Stewart comes as she continues to try 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.

In October last year she lost her appeal against being convicted of murdering her policeman husband.

She is now applying to the Criminal Cases Review Commission in a further challenge to the guilty verdict.

Her lawyers have also approached the body which examines suspected miscarriages of justice in an attempt to have her conviction for killing Lesley Howell referred back to the Court of Appeal.

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