Hazel Stewart loses appeal over murder conviction

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A former Sunday school teacher’s bid to overturn her conviction for murdering the wife of her ex-lover has failed.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast refused Hazel Stewart’s appeal against her conviction for the murder of Lesley Howell in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, in 1991.

Stewart was also found guilty of murdering her policeman husband, Trevor Buchanan, as part of a joint enterprise with her former lover, Colin Howell.

The 49-year-old former playgroup assistant dropped her appeal over that conviction ahead of the start of the hearing.

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

After a morning of submissions by defence and prosecution lawyers, the three judges took less than 10 minutes to come back with their decision. Lord Justice Higgins said they would provide a full written ruling at a later date.

Stewart, formerly of Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, was sentenced to 18 years for the murders after a high-profile trial in the town two years ago.

One legal route left open to the mother-of-two could see her defence team appeal against the length of the tariff handed down by Justice Anthony Hart.

Her ex-lover 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 took their own lives in a bizarre suicide pact until Howell, apparently wracked by guilt, sensationally confessed to elders in his church.