Belfast court rejects Stewart appeal

 

Former Sunday school teacher Hazel Stewart’s appeal against her conviction for the murder of her lover’s wife has been refused by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Belfast.

Ms Stewart (49), jailed for the murder of her policeman husband in Northern Ireland more than 20 years ago earlier dropped her appeal against conviction for his murder.

However, she proceeded with her challenge to a jury’s verdict which found her guilty of the murder of her ex-lover’s wife at the same time.

Refusing the appeal over Mrs Howell’s murder, Lord Justice Malachy Higgins said: “There is no reason to doubt the safety of this conviction.”

The bodies of both victims were discovered in a car filled with exhaust fumes in Castlerock, Co Derry, in 1991 as part of a plan aimed at fooling police into thinking that the murders were suicides.

The former Sunday school teacher was sentenced to 18 years for her role in the murders of constable Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell in May 1991.

Her ex-lover Colin Howell, a once-respected dentist and lay preacher, is serving a 21-year sentence after pleading guilty to gassing their spouses as they slept.

For almost 20 years, police believed the pair had taken their own lives in a bizarre suicide pact until Howell, apparently wracked by guilt, sensationally confessed to elders in his church.

Howell was the star prosecution witness against the one-time playgroup assistant in a high profile trial at Coleraine Crown Court in February 2011.

Constable Buchanan (32) and Mrs Howell, a 31-year-old award-winning nurse and mother of four, were found dead in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in a garage behind a row of houses known as the Twelve Apostles in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry.

Police thought they had died in some sort of suicide pact because of the distress of their spouses’ affair.

Howell and Stewart, who split up acrimoniously five years after the murders, covered up the crimes and carried their dark secret for almost two decades.

PA