Stewart undergoes ‘psychiatric tests’

HAZEL Stewart is undergoing psychiatric examinations as part of an attempt to overturn her conviction for murdering her policeman husband and ex-lover’s wife, a court has heard.

Psychological assessments are also being made on the former Sunday school teacher before a decision is made on whether to seek to introduce fresh evidence.

Stewart, 49, is appealing against a verdict that she plotted with dentist Colin Howell to kill their respective spouses 20 years ago.

Last month a judge - who studied papers submitted by her new legal team - ruled there were insufficient grounds to challenge the conviction.

But the mother of two, currently being held at Hydebank Prison in Belfast, is still to apply directly to the Court of Appeal.

During a mention of the case on Friday, Stewart’s barrister raised the possibility of trying to have new evidence admitted.

Mark Reel told three senior judges: “Psychological and psychiatric examinations have already been commenced.

“A decision will be taken in relation to that matter.”

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

The victims were found in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock 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 gassed to death before their bodies were arranged to make it look like they had taken their own lives.

It took nearly two decades for the truth to emerge when Howell, 52, suddenly confessed to both killings.

He pleaded guilty to the murders last year and is serving a minimum 21 years prison sentence.

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

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

During the trial the prosecution alleged 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 hose pipe used to gas their spouses, it was claimed.

The Court of Appeal was told on Friday that her legal representatives want up to five portions of transcripts from the trial as they prepare her case.

Mr Reel, who is instructed by solicitor Michael McGee of Hasson and Co. in Derry, was advised to check first with Stewart’s previous legal team to see what relevant notes they retain.

The case is due to be mentioned again in the New Year.