Belfast Telegraph

System has indulged killer Hazel Stewart enough

Hazel Stewart
Hazel Stewart

Editor's Viewpoint

It is a fundamental principle of our law that everyone is judged innocent until proved guilty. That infers defendants are entitled to proper legal representation, which most often is paid for through legal aid.

The cost of mounting a defence in a criminal case with solicitors and barristers involved will very often be beyond the means of ordinary people, and legal aid provides them with that safety net.

But many people reading our report today on the bill racked up to date by Hazel Stewart, the former Sunday school teacher convicted four years ago of murdering her policeman husband and the wife of her lover, dentist Colin Howell, will be astonished at the figures involved.

Stewart has mounted a number of legal cases seeking to overturn her convictions - which have been rejected by judges - and has also fought to retain the police pension of her dead husband, which was paid out for 16 years after his death was initially believed to be a suicide pact with Mrs Howell.

Although the body that examines potential miscarriages of justice has refused to refer her case to the Court of Appeal, Stewart may continue her legal battle in the European courts.

To many, her repeated legal challenges are viewed as exploiting the justice system and the legal aid provision. And they will also wonder why the National Crime Agency has dropped its demand for the repayment of her murdered husband's pension payments.

The NCA is pursuing a new avenue in respect of residential property Stewart obtained as a result of her criminality.

Most people would feel it is justice that if the taxpayer has to fund her defence, then on conviction she should pay up any financial gain resulting from her crime.

In all of this we cannot forget the families of the two victims. They have endured double agony - first in believing that they killed themselves, and then two decades later learning that they were murdered by their spouses.

Now Stewart's repeated legal challenges continue to bring the case into the limelight - it has already been the subject of a book and TV drama series - bringing fresh anguish to the families.

There is another guiding principle in law called proportionality, and many people will feel that the law has already indulged Hazel Stewart sufficiently, and that she should serve out her sentence in her prison cell away from the public gaze.

Belfast Telegraph


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