Stewart appeals against murder conviction

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The Independent Online

A former Sunday school teacher jailed for murdering her policeman husband and her ex-lover's wife has launched an appeal bid against her conviction.

Lawyers for Hazel Stewart, 48, submitted papers applying for leave to appeal against a jury's unanimous decision to find her guilty of killing Pc Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell on Northern Ireland's north coast almost 20 years ago.

A judge will consider whether there are sufficient grounds for allowing a full appeal hearing to take place. If the appeal proceeds it is unlikely to be heard before Christmas.

Legal sources indicated that the application for leave was received by the courts. It was submitted just ahead of the four-week deadline subsequent to her sentencing.

Stewart is in Hydebank women's prison in Belfast after being handed an 18-year minimum term following her conviction for plotting with her former lover, dentist Colin Howell, to poison his wife and her husband in May 1991.

The 32-year-old policeman and Mrs Howell, 31, were found in a fume-filled garage in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry.

Police thought they had died in a bizarre suicide pact - triggered by their spouses' infidelity - until 18 years later when lay preacher Howell, apparently wracked by guilt, confessed to elders in his church that he murdered them and stage-managed the scene to look like they had taken their own lives.

He pleaded guilty to the murders last year and is serving 21 years in prison.

The dentist gassed his wife as she slept in their Coleraine home with carbon monoxide fumes piped from his car before dumping her body in the boot of the vehicle and driving the 10-minute journey to the Buchanan home. There he was met by Stewart and went on to kill the sleeping policeman by the same method.

He then took his two victims to nearby Castlerock where he left the car in the garage of his wife's late father and turned on the engine.

The jurors in Stewart's 15-day trial at Coleraine Crown Court agreed that she knew about the plan in advance and, in the case of her husband, actively facilitated his killing by ensuring he was drugged and allowing Howell into her home. They found her guilty on two counts of murder.

The mother of two did not take the stand during her trial, while Howell appeared as a Crown witness against her in four days of compelling testimony.

Since her conviction Stewart's two children Andrew and Lisa have insisted their mother did not murder their father. Her second husband David Stewart, a retired senior police officer, has also stood by her.

Setting the minimum term Stewart must spend behind bars earlier this month, judge Mr Justice Anthony Hart said she had shown little remorse for her dreadful crimes.

The judge claimed her tearful expressions of regret to police after her arrest in January 2009 - interviews that were played during her trial - were more about the situation she faced than sorrow for what she did.

"It is noteworthy that throughout her police interviews she said far more about the effect of these events on herself, her children and her present husband than she did about the effects of the murders on all the others whose lives have been ended and blighted by these events," he said.

"I consider that she has expressed little real remorse for what she did, rather the sorrow and regret which she expressed to the police was largely because of the situation in which she found herself, and not for the events in which she played her part."