Belfast Telegraph

MLA: recoup our £120k from killer Hazel Stewart's property

By Lesley Houston

The £120,000 of taxpayers’ money already handed out in legal aid to double murderer Hazel Stewart should be paid back to the public purse, says an MLA.

John Dallat thinks all efforts should now be made to recover the money.

Mother-of-two Stewart (below) from Coleraine, was jailed for at least 18 years 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.

Even though she lived in a luxurious house in its own grounds, 50-year-old Stewart claimed legal aid to pay for both her trial and her appeal.

It has emerged defence costs for the preliminary process and her original 15-day trial in Coleraine two years ago reached £118,143.80.

It is not known the legal aid cost of her appeal. She has now hired a new legal team to launch a second appeal.

East Londonderry MLA Mr Dallat said: “Given that Hazel Stewart’s legal aid bill has topped £120,000, yet Ms Stewart was living in what media have described as a luxury home at the time of her arrest, I am hopeful that efforts will be made to recover this money from Ms Stewart’s estate.

“While everyone has the right to access legal aid, it seems just that those found guilty should have their assets recovered to help to meet the costs, giving consideration to any dependants.”

The SDLP man referred to changes in the recovery of defence costs last year, which permit judges to make orders to recover the costs where reasonable.

Mr Dallat added: “In times of economic austerity the taxpayer must have confidence that public money is being spent prudently.”

\[Shanua Corr\]Details from the Legal Services commission confirmed Stewart's legal representation at Magistrates Court level before she stood trial cost £15,433.74.

Her Crown Court defence fees were an additional £102,710.06, but details of the costs for a failed Appeal Court challenge in January this year have yet to be revealed.

Howell, who gassed his wife and Stewart’s husband while making the deaths appear to be suicide, is serving a minimum of 21 years in prison.

Those eligible for representation must prove their disposable income is £234.00-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.

background

Dentist Colin Howell (53) was jailed for a minimum 21 years after he pleaded guilty to the murders of his wife Lesley and policeman Trevor Buchanan. Stewart (50) is serving a minimum 18-year sentence for her part in the killings. The pair plotted to murder their spouses in May 1991 by gassing them with carbon monoxide.

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