Belfast Telegraph

Psychiatrist probes the mental state of double killer Hazel Stewart

...but the task is taking so long that her appeal hearing may now be delayed

By Alan Erwin

A psychiatrist has begun to delve into the complex mind of twisted double killer Hazel Stewart.

But the psychiatric assessments are taking so long to undertake that the former Sunday school teacher’s appeal against conviction for the murder of her husband and ex-lover’s wife may have to be pushed back to next year, a court has heard.

Stewart’s lawyers are to wait until they receive the medical report next month before deciding whether to seek to have fresh evidence admitted in their challenge.

The 49-year-old mother-of-two is appealing against a verdict that she plotted with her former lover, notorious Coleraine dentist Colin Howell (right), to kill their partners more than two decades ago so that they could start a life together.

Stewart was jailed for a minimum of 18 years for the murders of her husband, Constable Trevor Buchanan (32), and 31-year-old Lesley Howell.

The victims were found in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock, Co Londonderry, in May 1991. Police originally believed they had died in a suicide pact after discovering that 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.

It took nearly 20 years for the truth to emerge when Howell (52) suddenly confessed to both killings.

He pleaded guilty to the murders in 2010 and is serving a minimum of 21 years in prison.

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

In March last year a jury at Coleraine Crown Court found Stewart guilty on two counts of murder.

During the trial the prosecution said she knew about the plan in advance and actively facilitated her husband's killing by ensuring he was drugged and allowing Howell into her home.

She also disposed of evidence, including the hosepipe used to gas their spouses.

Stewart was due to undergo psychiatric examinations and psychological assessments earlier this year as part of her attempt to overturn her convictions.

But judges in the Court of Appeal were told yesterday of delays in getting a medical expert to carry out the process.

Defence barrister Mark Reel said: “That consultation has now taken place.”

He added that the expert's report would be received in time to confirm next month whether an application for fresh evidence would be made.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan listed the case for a further review on November 9.

Background

Mother of two Hazel Stewart is currently serving an 18-year life sentence for the murder of her husband and her ex-lover’s wife more than two decades ago. Stewart and dentist Colin Howell murdered their spouses and disguised the killings as suicide. After the murders the lovers broke up and Stewart remarried a retired police officer. However, she was brought to justice when Howell confessed to police in 2010 and gave evidence against Stewart in court. She is to appeal her convictions.

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