Hazel Stewart is refused funding for legal battle
Convicted double killer Hazel Stewart has been denied funding for a legal battle over police pension benefits inherited from her murdered first husband, it emerged yesterday.
The National Crime Agency is seeking an order that she must repay money gained following the death of Trevor Buchanan.
But a trial due to get under way at the High Court in Belfast today has been adjourned due to her failure to secure legal aid.
Stewart’s lawyers are now planning an attempt to have that decision judicially reviewed.
The 53-year-old 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 hit by a series of delays.
And her barrister went into court yesterday to have the case put on hold again because legal aid has now been refused.
Eugene McKenna said: “At present Mrts Stewart has no funding in the case.”
Her second husband, retired police superintendent David Stewart, is a joint respondent in the proceedings despite facing no allegations of any wrongdoing.
He is defending the action as a personal litigant without legal representation.
Legal aid authorities are understood to have concluded that he should pay his wife’s bills in the case.
It was stressed in court that the NCA accept Mr Stewart is “entirely blameless”.
The case centres on finances which have since been tied up in the couple’s family home.
Requesting a further adjournment, Mr McKenna added: “If the matter were to go on tomorrow my solicitors would have to make an application to come off record.”
The judge, Mr Justice Maguire, stressed the need for proceedings to be dealt with as soon as possible.
However, he acknowledged the legal and factual complexities involved.
He added: “It may be there simply will be no legal aid available and eventually this case will come on without any legal representation for either of the Stewarts.
“If that is to happen it has to happen.”
The bid to recover money from Hazel 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, 57, 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 has since applied 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.