Ian Stewart: Helen Bailey’s killer convicted of murdering wife Diane Stewart - what is his sentence?

Ian Stewart had murdered his fiancée Helen Bailey in 2016, now he’s been convicted of the murder of his wife Diane six years earlier

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Double murderer Ian Stewart has been given a whole life order after being convicted of killing his wife six years before his fiancée.

Stewart was found guilty on Wednesday of the murder of his wife Diane Stewart, he had previously been convicted of murdering his fiancée, children’s book author Helen Bailey.

And it was parts of Mrs Stewart’s brain, donated to medical science, which helped snare him.

The 61-year-old killed 51-year-old Ms Bailey in 2016 and dumped her body in the cesspit of the £1.5 million home they shared in Royston in Hertfordshire.

Ian Stewart who murdered his wife, Diane (left) six years before his fiancee, Helen Bailey (right) has been given a whole life order. Ian Stewart who murdered his wife, Diane (left) six years before his fiancee, Helen Bailey (right) has been given a whole life order.
Ian Stewart who murdered his wife, Diane (left) six years before his fiancee, Helen Bailey (right) has been given a whole life order.

A trial at St Albans Crown Court heard it was most likely she was suffocated while sedated by drugs, and Stewart was found guilty of her murder in 2017. He was handed a life sentence for Ms Bailey’s murder, with a minimum term of 34 years - now after his second murder conviction, he will die behind bars.

After he was found guilty of murdering Ms Bailey, police investigated the 2010 death of Stewart’s wife, Diane, 47.

Her cause of death was recorded at the time as Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP).

However, during the investigation parts of her brain which had been donated to medical science were examined, and showed her death was most likely caused by restriction to breathing such as smothering or a neck hold.

It was also said that her risk of an epileptic seizure was low.

What was said during the court case?

Stewart had claimed in court, as his two sons listened to his evidence, that he had returned from the supermarket to the family home in Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, and found his wife collapsed in the garden.

He said he thought she had suffered an epileptic fit.

Mrs Stewart had not had an epileptic fit for 18 years and took daily medication, jurors were told, with consultant neurologist Dr Christopher Derry estimating that her risk of having a fatal epileptic seizure was about one in 100,000.

During a 999 call Stewart was instructed to perform CPR on his wife and said he was doing so, but paramedic Spencer North, who attended the scene, said there “didn’t seem to be any effective CPR”.

Mrs Stewart’s death was not treated as suspicious at the time and, while a post-mortem examination was carried out, it was not a forensic post-mortem.

Diane StewartDiane Stewart
Diane Stewart

As part of the police investigation, following Stewart’s 2017 murder conviction, consultant neuropathologist Professor Safa Al-Sarraj was asked to examine preserved parts of Mrs Stewart’s brain, which had been donated to medical science.

Prof Al-Sarraj said there was evidence that Mrs Stewart’s brain had suffered a lack of oxygen prior to her death, and he estimated that this happened over a period of 35 minutes to an hour.

Prosecutor Stuart Trimmer QC said her death was “most likely caused by a prolonged restriction to her breathing from an outside source”, such as smothering or a neck hold.

Pathologist Dr Cary described SUDEP as a “diagnosis of exclusion”, adding that “an equal diagnosis of exclusion is having been put into such a state by some covert means – smothering or interfering with the mechanics of breathing or some kind of drug use”.

The court heard that full toxicology was not carried out as part of the 2010 routine post-mortem examination, and nor was a neck dissection.

Dr Cary said that, as in the case of Mrs Stewart, there was “no injury that was visible” in the case of Ms Bailey, who was in the cesspit for three months before she was found.

The court heard that Stewart received £96,607.37 after his wife’s death, in the form of £28,500.21 from a life insurance policy and the rest from bank accounts.

What did the judge say?

The judge, Mr Justice Simon Bryan, said Mrs Stewart and Ms Bailey’s deaths were in “chillingly similar circumstances”.

He told Stewart: “You successfully passed off a murder as an epileptic fit in the circumstance I have identified playing out an elaborate, and indeed sophisticated, charade over a period of time.

“A charade that succeeded at the time, and would have succeeded for all time but for your subsequent murder of Helen Bailey.”

He also said: “ Diane carried a donor card, and you had known her wishes in that regard since university. It was in such circumstances that you consented to her brain being donated for teaching and research. To have refused such request would no doubt have aroused considerable suspicion.

“It no doubt never crossed your mind that the donation of Diane’s brain for teaching and research would lead to your ultimate downfall, as it was to do, and your conviction.”

Stewart shook his head at times during the sentencing hearing.

Mr Justice Bryan said: “You enacted a charade in relation to the circumstances of Helen’s death and I am equally satisfied that you acted out a charade in relation to Diane’s death as addressed below, in each case to deceive the police, and all those around you that you were not responsible for their death.

“You stood to gain financially from the death of Helen and Diane and did indeed gain financially from each of their death’s which in each case provided a motive for your murder.”

 Ian Stewart with Helen Bailey who he murdered in 2016. Ian Stewart with Helen Bailey who he murdered in 2016.
Ian Stewart with Helen Bailey who he murdered in 2016.

Who is Helen Bailey?

Helen Bailey was a children’s author who began a relationship with Ian Stewart in 2011.

She was reported missing from her home in Royston, Hertfordshire, by Stewart, after last being seen out walking her dog on 11 April 2016.

He claimed that a note was found, saying she was going to stay at the family holiday home in Broadstairs, but it was later established that she had not been there. Her brother and mother described her disappearance as out of character.

It transpired that Stewart had spent weeks poisoning Ms Bailey with prescription sedatives before smothering her.

He first met Ms Bailey, a widow on a Facebook group for the bereaved in 2011, showering her with affection to win his way into her trust, later her multimillion-pound estate.

After the pair moved into a £1.5 million home together, the avaricious predator slowly began slipping her his prescription anti-insomnia medication.

Ms Bailey’s body was found along with that of her beloved pet dog in a septic tank at her house on 15 July, 2016.

During his trial Stewart claimed Ms Bailey and her dog had been kidnapped on 11 April by two men called Nick and Joe, saying that he had not told the police about this “to keep Helen safe” and that the kidnappers had demanded a ransom of £500,000.

What have Mrs Stewart’s family said about the verdict?

The two sons of Ian and Diane Stewart paid tribute to their “amazing” mother, after their father was sentenced to a whole-life order for her murder in 2010.

In a joint statement released through police, Jamie and Oliver Stewart said: “Our Mum was amazing.

“All the people we have spoken to and things we have heard since her death have only enhanced this feeling.

“We were privileged to have a wonderful caring upbringing and we were supported through all the activities and hobbies that we undertook.

“It’s been really upsetting the last six years to have to recall the events of the toughest time of our life.

“We now look forward to recalling the many happy moments we had growing up as a family.”

Mrs Stewart’s siblings, sister Wendy Bellamy-Lee and brother Christopher Lem, said: “Diane was a very special, caring and capable person.

“She will always be greatly loved and hugely missed by her family and all who knew her.

“We have many happy memories of growing up together through the years and later having close bonds sharing our family lives together.

“Tragically she died far too soon, she will always be in our hearts.”

How many prisoners are there on a whole life order?

Whole-life orders are the most severe punishment available in the UK criminal justice system for those who commit the most serious crimes.

Ian Stewart joins a string of some of the country’s most dangerous offenders who are expected to die behind bars, including disgraced police officer Wayne Couzens and necrophiliac David Fuller.

There were 61 criminals serving whole-life orders, according to Government figures to the end of 2021.

They will never be considered for release, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

Milly Dowler’s killer, Levi Bellfield, is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history to be serving two whole-life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

What have the police said?

Detective Superintendent Jerome Kent led the investigations into both Helen and Diane’s deaths. He said: “My thoughts and those of the investigating team are with Diane’s family at this extremely difficult time.

“Both Helen and Diane were extremely talented women who had their lives taken by a man who skilfully controlled them both in the same way by playing on his own frailties and needs. He is a calculated killer who planned his attacks to coincide to times when others were away from the house, and he was alone with his victim.

“He is so much a master manipulator, he had the ability to convince agencies of his innocence and kept the truth of what happened from family and friends, keeping those lies going over months and years as well as through the court process.

“In each case, no reports of domestic abuse or concerns about coercive behaviour were reported to any agency. It is often the case that perpetrators are powerful and subtle in their ability to control.”

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