Killer's final appeal attempt thrown out
Hazel Stewart has failed in a final legal attempt to have one of her two murder convictions overturned.
A body set up to investigate possible miscarriages of justice has refused to refer her conviction for killing ex-lover Colin Howell’s wife Lesley back to the Court of Appeal in Belfast.
The decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) exhausts 53-year-old Stewart’s current chances of having the guilty verdict re-examined.
The former Sunday School teacher is serving a minimum 18-year jail sentence for the double murder of her policeman husband Trevor Buchanan, 32, and 31-year-old Mrs Howell.
The victims were found together in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock, Co Londonderry in May 1991.
Police originally believed they had died in a suicide pact after discovering their partners were having an affair.
But they had been 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 March 2011 Stewart was unanimously convicted of both killings by a jury at Coleraine Crown Court.
Since then the mother-of-two has mounted a series of attempts to have the verdicts overturned.
In January 2013 her appeal against being convicted of Lesley Howell’s murder was dismissed.
At that stage she abandoned her challenge to being found guilty of killing her first husband.
Then, in October 2015 senior judges in Belfast dismissed a legal bid to have that move annulled, ruling there was no merit in new arguments mounted in a bid to clear her name.
Meanwhile, Stewart’s lawyers applied to the CCRC in an attempt to have the conviction for murdering Leslie Howell referred back to the Court of Appeal.
But the body has now decided against taking the step requested.
After studying further submissions it reached a final determination that Stewart’s application should be closed.
She can make a fresh request if new information emerges.
Stewart’s solicitor, Kevin Winters, confirmed the current case was not being referred back.
He added: “We are considering the CCRC’s ruling and we are currently engaging with the PSNI on matters of a sensitive nature which require further investigation and may result in a further application to the Court of Appeal.”