Killer Hazel Stewart's family home to be sold, court orders

Hazel Stewart outside court during her trial in 2011

Convicted double killer Hazel Stewart's family home is set to be sold to settle legal action over benefits inherited from her murdered first husband.

The National Crime Agency issued High Court proceedings in a bid to recover assets and police pension funds gained following the death of Constable Trevor Buchanan.

Her second husband, David Stewart, has nine months to sell the house outside Coleraine, Co Derry before the Agency can step in to complete the process.

Mr Stewart, himself a retired police superintendent, claimed the outcome means his wife's son and daughter, Andrew and Lisa, will lose their family home and have their rightful inheritance "seized by the state".

In an emotional address he told the court: "Not one penny will come from Trevor Buchanan to his children."

Hazel Stewart, 55, is serving a minimum 18-year jail sentence for murdering Mr Buchanan, 32, and 31-year-old Lesley Howell, the wife of her ex-lover Colin Howell.

The victims were found together in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock, Co Derry in May 1991.

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

Nearly two decades passed before dentist Howell, 58, 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 she was unanimously convicted of both killings by a jury at Coleraine Crown Court.

Since then she has failed in a series of attempts to have the verdicts overturned.

Backed by her children and husband, the former Sunday School teacher still protests she is innocent of murder.

Efforts to recover money from her were brought under proceeds of crime legislation.

Her second husband was a joint respondent despite facing no allegations of any wrongdoing whatsoever, with the Agency acknowledging he is "entirely blameless".

The case centred on Hazel Stewart's assets, now tied up in the couple's family home.

Both have consented to the recovery order which is now expected to be finalised next week, the court heard.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, for the Agency, said Mr Stewart has a nine-month "period of grace" to sell the house.

Hazel Stewart's barrister, Eugene McKenna, told Mrs Justice Keegan she also agreed to the resolution.

"The position of my client is that as long as the second defendant (her husband) is happy, she is happy," he said.

"That has been her approach throughout."

Despite his consent, Mr Stewart expressed concerns over the deadline and the price for his home.

"Colin Howell's property sold well below its market value and took a long time to sell," he said.

"This house may be the same, I would ask the court to consider whether this nine months has to be a cliff edge."

He suggested a possible alternative arrangement of paying money to buy out the Agency's interest - an option its representatives indicated could still be explored.

Mr Stewart told the court his family's position remains that his wife is not guilty of the murders, with their distress exacerbated by her continued imprisonment.

He added: "Now Lisa and Andrew will lose their rightful inheritance and family home."

Responding to his comments, Mr O'Donoghue said: "Some of the points he's made the NCA would disagree with."

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