Hazel Stewart in legal aid challenge

Hazel Stewart
Hazel Stewart

Double killer Hazel Stewart is battling for legal aid to defend against attempts to recover pension benefits inherited from her murdered first husband, it has emerged.

The former Sunday school teacher is set to mount a High Court challenge over an income assessment which has led to what was described as an “impasse” in her attaining funding for legal support.

Stewart, 51, is serving a minimum 18-year jail sentence for the killings of spouse Trevor Buchanan, a 32-year-old RUC officer, and 31-year-old Lesley Howell, the wife of her ex-lover Colin Howell.

The National Crime Agency is currently seeking an order to recover police pension benefits she is believed to have received after the murder.

The case, brought under proceeds of crime legislation, is understood to centre on finances which have since been tied up in her family home.

Her second husband, retired superintendent David Stewart, has been named as a joint respondent.

There is no suggestion whatsoever of any wrongdoing by Mr Stewart.

Although the case is listed for hearing later this year, a dispute emerged over Hazel Stewart’s application for legal aid.

Checks are carried out on the finances and earnings of anyone applying for funding, and partners they live with.

But according to counsel for Stewart, the Legal Services Commission has failed to consider her prisoner status.

Eugene McKenna said her application has reached “an impasse”.

He told the High Court: “The Legal Services Commission (LSC) assessment office have combined both Mrs Stewart’s income and her husband’s, even though they are not living together.”

The barrister claimed the move went against the LSC’s own guidance.

“It looks like the only avenue open to Mrs Stewart would be to challenge that decision by judicial review.”

However, with “tentative discussions” ongoing, Mr Justice Treacy agreed to review the case again next month.

The bid to recover money from Stewart comes as she continues to prepare a second attempt to clear her name.

Her legal team has contacted the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer her conviction for the murder of Lesley Howell back to the Court of Appeal.

Separate efforts are also being made to overturn a verdict that she killed Trevor Buchanan as part of the same plot.

The mother-of-two’s lawyers intend to introduce fresh psychiatric and psychological evidence.

They also want to raise disclosure issues connected to another potential witness.

Both murder victims were found in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock in May 1991.

The police had originally believed they died in a suicide pact after discovering their partners were having an affair.