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Double murderer met victim at a bereavement group for his first kill

The killer widower who nearly got away with it: How Ian Stewart murdered his first wife and escaped justice for 12 years – before meeting author Helen Bailey at a bereavement group and poisoning her for her £1.8m fortune

  • Ian Stewart met wealthy children’s author Helen Bailey at a bereavement group 
  • Stewart had already suffocated his first wife Diane Stewart at their home in 2010 
  • He met Bailey in 2011 after contacting her online as he ‘grieved’ Diane’s death
  • Within two years of meeting, they had moved into £1.5m Royston home together
  • In 2016, Stewart strangled her and left her body to rot in the cesspit of the home

New details have emerged which reveal how a double murderer escaped justice for more than a decade and met his second victim at a bereavement group years after killing his first wife.

Ian Stewart, 61, was today handed a whole life order after he was found guilty of the murder of his first wife Diane in 2010, and for later strangling wealthy children’s author Helen Bailey and dumping her body in their £1.5million Hertfordshire home.

In 2016, Stewart strangled Ms Bailey, 51, before leaving her body and that of Boris, their brown miniature dachshund, in the cesspit of the Royston home their shared where they lay undiscovered for three months.

Six years earlier, he had attacked his first wife Diane in a similar fashion, before weaving a web of deception that saw friends, family and medics convinced she had died after suffering a ‘1 in 100,000’ fatal epileptic fit.

In both cases, Stewart was set to pocket a large windfall after his partners’ deaths. He received £96,607.37 after Diane’s passing from life insurance pay outs and her savings, while he stood to gain £1.8 million should Helen die.

Mr Justice Simon Bryan today slammed Stewart – who will now die behind bars – for a ‘concerted and callous charade’ in denying the murders and pointed out the ‘striking similarities’ in both gruesome cases. 

Ian Stewart, 61, was today handed a whole life order after he was found guilty of the murder of his first wife Diane in 2010, and for later strangling wealthy children’s author Helen Bailey and dumping her body in their £1.5million Hertfordshire home

Helen Bailey, had lost her husband John Sinfield when he drowned in front of her on a holiday to Barbados, had coped with her grief by writing about it. 

Her blog Planet Grief was turned into a successful book, When Bad Things Happen In Good Bikinis, serialised in this newspaper.

In 2011, Stewart first met Helen, the daughter of a public health inspector and originally from Northumbria, whom he had got in touch with through an online bereavement group as he ‘grieved’ over the death of his first wife Diane a year prior.

Within two years of Stewart making contact with Helen, the couple had sold their respective homes and together bought a stunning Arts and Crafts house with an outdoor pool and acre of land in Royston, Hertfordshire.

Believing Stewart to be her ‘happy ending’ – and with her writing career in the ascendant – Helen believed she had finally found contentment.

Ian Stewart would strangle renowned children’s author Helen Bailey before dumping her body in the cesspit of the £1.5 million home they shared in Royston, Hertfordshire, together with that of Boris, their brown miniature dachshund (pictured together above)

Within two years of Stewart making contact with Helen, the couple had sold their respective homes and together bought a stunning Arts and Crafts house with an outdoor pool and acre of land in Royston, Hertfordshire 

But shortly after, Stewart would strangle Ms Bailey before dumping her body in the cesspit of the £1.5 million home they shared in Royston, Hertfordshire, together with that of Boris, their brown miniature dachshund.

Her body lay undiscovered among raw sewage hidden 15ft beneath their garage for three months as Stewart pretended to police that she had gone missing. Detectives had considered him a suspect, but waited a full month before arresting him and carrying out extensive searches of the property.

But Ms Bailey’s corpse was finally discovered months later after a tip-off from a neighbour and he was found guilty of murder a year later.  

Delay: Police faced backlash and questions about why it took them three months to find the body of murdered children’s author Helen Bailey at her home in Royston, Hertfordshire 

A judge said Stewart suffocated her with a pillow while she was ‘too drowsy to fight him off’, with the fiend knowing he stood to gain £1.8m from her substantial investment portfolio, which included two properties. 

Ms Bailey had met the ‘master manipulator’ on a bereavement group and, just before her death, was planning a wedding with the man she referred to in her writing as ‘the Gorgeous, Grey-Haired Widower’.   

Meanwhile, Stewart had first met modern language student Diane at Salford University, where they studied, after stealing a chip off her plate in the canteen 28 years before he would kill her. 

He worked for a year after leaving the university in 1982, before moving to Cambridge with Diane where he studied for a PhD.

Two years her senior, he had been studying computer science and remembered being wowed as he planned for Diane to become his ‘companion… almost immediately’. 

Diane worked several jobs, including for DHL, Philips and later Kitchen Range Foods – which made products for fast food giants such as McDonald’s.  

Stewart told jurors the pair ‘were in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together’. They married in 1986 and went on to have two sons, Jamie and Oliver. 

Before Ian Stewart, killer Met policeman Wayne Couzens was the last offender to be handed a full life term for the kidnap, rape and murder of marketing executive Sarah Everard. 

There are now more than 60 criminals still alive who are serving whole life orders, according to government figures to the end of June. In total, 74 criminals have been sentenced to whole life terms.  

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.

Rose West 

Other notorious criminals serving whole life orders include Gloucester serial killer Rose West, who is responsible for the deaths of ten women – many of them tortured and murdered with her husband Fred West, now dead, as an accomplice.  

Rose West was later transferred to HMP New Hall in West Yorkshire in 2019, as rumours circulated about ill health and death threats. 

Myra Hindley, who died aged 60 in 2002, was never released from prison despite her long campaign for parole, which was backed by prominent supporters including Francis, Pakenham, Earl of Longford.

Partner in crime, Ian Brady, spent 19 years in mainstream prisons before he was diagnosed as a psychopath in 1985 and moved to the high security Park Lane Hospital, now Ashworth Hospital, in Maghull, Merseyside.

Levi Bellfield

Brady vowed to starve himself in 2012 and unsuccessfully applied to return to prison. He finally died at Ashworth Hospital in 2017 aged 79, after spending 52 years incarcerated.

Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers, is also serving a life term without parole.

Other notorious lifers are Mark Bridger, 55, who abducted and murdered five-year-old April Jones in Powys, Wales, in 2012; neo-Nazi Thomas Mair who killed MP Jo Cox; Grindr serial killer Stephen Port; and most recently terror attacker Khairi Saadallah – who murdered three men in a park in Reading. 

Before they died, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and doctor Harold Shipman – thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers – were also among those serving whole life orders.   

But in 2010, Diane, then aged 47, suddenly died. Stewart managed to convince friends, family and neighbours that she had collapsed and suffered an epileptic fit at their family home in Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire. 

Although she seemed in perfect heath, Diane’s cause of death was recorded at the time as Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) and her body was cremated.

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

But 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’.

Diane’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.

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’.

Stewart denied the murder of his wife, and during the trial at Huntingdon Crown Court he described his conviction for the murder of Ms Bailey as a ‘miscarriage of justice’. 

Questioned by Mr Trimmer, Stewart insisted during his trial that the two women’s deaths were a coincidence. The prosecutor told Stewart: ‘You’re a devious man.’

On Wednesday a jury of five men and seven women at Huntingdon Crown Court found Stewart guilty of strangling Diane to death in 2010. 

Speaking after the verdict, Diane’s siblings Wendy Bellamy-Lee and 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.’

Jamie and Oliver Stewart, sons of  added: ‘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.’

Ian Stewart and a 999 call handler on the day his wife died

Here is a transcript of the 999 call made by Ian Stewart, who is accused of murdering his wife Diane Stewart at their home in 2010.

The call, which is more than 18 minutes long, was played to the jury at Huntingdon Crown Court last week:

Call handler (999): OK, tell me exactly what’s happened?

Ian Stewart (IS): My wife’s had a fit. I think she’s off she’s in the garden.

999: OK right, you need to slow down, OK?

Ian Stewart (IS): She’s, she’s in the garden she’s, she’s unconscious.

999: OK. Are you with the patient now?

IS: I’m just indoors at the moment.

999: Can you see her from where you are?

IS: Yeah.

999: How old is she please?

IS: She’s 45, 47, 47.

999: Is she awake?

IS: No, no, she’s not awake. Definitely not.

999: Is she breathing?

IS: No, I don’t think so, no.

999: Right, you need to go and check on her for me, please.

IS: I’m right beside her now.

999: Is she breathing?

IS: No sir, no, no.

999: She’s not breathing?

IS: I don’t think so.

999: Can you check her for me?

IS: Yeah.

999: Is she breathing?

IS: I don’t think so, I’ve turned her to try to put her in the recovery position but I can’t do it because she just flopped back. I think she’s had a fit.

999: You think she’s had a fit?

IS: I think so, she does have epilepsy.

999: OK, just bear with me a moment.

IS: There’s a doctor that lives opposite can I go and get him?

999: No, just bear with me a moment. Just bear with me, I’m just going to talk to colleagues.

IS: Do I do anything? What do I do?

999: OK, has she had more than one fit in a row?

IS: She hasn’t had a fit. And she was not a fit for a long, long time, about 20 years.

999: Has she had more than one fit in a row.

IS: When? Today?

999: Yes.

IS: No I wasn’t there when it happened I just found her, I don’t know.

999: Is she pregnant?

IS: No.

999: Is she diabetic?

IS: No.

999: Is she an epileptic or ever had a fit before?

IS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

999: Has the twitching stopped yet?

IS: Yeah, she’s not moving at all. She’s not moving at all.

999: OK, is she breathing at the moment?

IS: I don’t, as I said, I don’t think so. I don’t know. She’s frothing at the nose. So I will go to get the doctor…

999: No you need to listen to me sir, OK? We need to try and help her until the help gets there, alright?

IS: OK, OK, the doctor is just opposite…

99: Please, listen to me, we need to help her.

IS: Sorry, sorry.

999: I am organising help for you now, stay on the line. I will tell you exactly what to do next. Are you right by her now?

IS: I’m right beside her, yes.

999: Listen carefully – you need to lie her flat on her back on the ground and remove any pillows.

IS: There’s no pillow and she’s already flat. I’ve already done that.

999: Alright, kneel next to her and look in her mouth for food or vomit.

IS: I wiped some of that stuff away already, there was vomit.

999: Do what I’m telling you.

IS: I am.

999: Is there anything in the mouth?

IS: It looks like there’s sick, yes.

999: Pardon.

IS: It’s…

999: You need to calm yourself down. Is there anything in the mouth.

IS: I don’t think so.

999: Place your hand on her forehead, your other hand under her neck, then tilt the head back. Put your ear next to her mouth…

IS: Hold on. I got to put the phone down. Do some of that again, I’m sorry.

999: Place your hand on her forehead. Your other hand under her neck.

IS: Yeah.

999: Then tilt the head back.

IS: Right.

999: Put your ear next to her mouth and tell me if you can feel or hear any breathing.

IS: No, I can’t.

999: You can’t? OK, put her head back. Are you doing that now, sir?

IS: Yes, yeah, yeah. No, I can’t…

999: You can’t feel or hear any breathing?

IS: No.

999: OK, listen carefully and I’ll tell you how to do resuscitation. Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone in the centre of her chest.

IS: Right.

999: Right between the nipples. Put your other hand on top of that hand.

IS: Yes.

999: Push down firmly two inches with only the heel of your lower hand touching the chest.

IS: Yes.

999: Now listen carefully. You need to pump the chest hard and fast at least twice per second. We’re going to do this 600 times or until help can take over. Let the chest come all the way up between pumps.

IS: Can I just say something – they can’t get in at the moment because all of the doors are locked.

999: You need to start this sir, OK?

IS: OK, OK I’m doing it.

999: Count out loud so that I can count with you.

IS: Press twice and then release press twice, is that right?

999: Pump the chest hard and fast at least twice per second.

IS: Right, yes.

999: Does this 600 times or until help can take over.

IS: OK doing it.

999: You need to count out loud so I can hear you.

IS: OK, one, two, one, two. Is that fast enough?

999: Listen to me. It needs to be one, two, three, four.

IS: Yes sir.

999: One, two, three, four.

IS: One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.

999: That’s it, well done.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: How hard do I do this?

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: How hard do I press?

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: You just need to pump the chest, hard and fast, at least twice a second, OK?

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: You need to push down firmly, two inches. Only the heel of your lower hand, OK?

IS: Yeah.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: That’s it, you’re doing really well, sir.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: Do I just keep going?

999: I’ll tell you when to stop, sir, it’s 600 times.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: Slow down sir, it’s one, two, three, four.

IS: Sorry.

999: No, you keep going, you’re doing well.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: Do I not need to open the door or something?

999: You keep going, I’ll tell you when it’s 600 times, OK?

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: Keep going, sir.

(IS continues counting from one to four, counting quicker as time goes by)

999: It’s one, two, three, four.

IS: Sorry.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: Keep going sir, you’re doing really well.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: Can I do nothing else?

999: That’s it, we’re finished now, listen. I’m going to tell you how to do good mouth to mouth, with the head tilted back, pinch her nose closed and completely cover her mouth with your mouth. Then blow two regular breaths into the lungs about one second each. The chest should rise and fall with each breath.

IS: OK, I’ll try. I’m going to put the phone down.

999: OK.

999: Hello sir? Can you feel the air going in and out?

IS: It’s difficult because I think she’s been sick, I think it’s blocked up. I tried to clean it out but I’m not sure I have.

999: Did you feel the air going in and out?

IS: I don’t think so. No, I didn’t see her chest move either.

999: Right, what I need you to do is quickly and open the door for me.

IS: OK, I need to open the gate actually.

999: Open it so that they can get in to you then come straight back to the phone.

IS: Yeah, I got the gates open.

999: Do you think there’s something in the mouth?

IS: I don’t know.

999: Well you need to look and clear her mouth out, if there’s anything in the mouth.

IS: OK. I’m putting the phone down again.

999: Hello?

IS: I don’t think there was, I cleared a lot of sick out of the way.

999: Right. Can you try it and give it two breaths again now?

IS: Yeah sure.

IS: Nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening.

999: OK sir, slow down. You’re going to keep doing compressions over and over. Don’t give up. This will keep her going until the ambulance crew arrives.

IS: OK.

999: Tell me when they’re right with her or if anything changes.

IS: What do I do now?

999: You need to start the compressions.

(IS starts counting from one to four)

999: Don’t stop what you’re doing until the emergency crew takes over from you.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

(The sound of an ambulance can be heard on the phone call).

IS: I can hear them.

999: OK, you need to keep going until they tell you to stop.

IS: OK.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: They’ve driven past, I think they’ve driven past.

999: OK, it’s number five isn’t it?

IS: Yes.

999: You’re doing really well, sir. I will let them know.

IS: We’re in a cul-de-sac.

999: Are you in a cul-de-sac? Keep doing compressions.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: They’ve driven past again, they’ve gone the other way now.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: They’re not coming back, they’re not coming back, they’ve gone the other way.

999: You need to keep doing compressions, we’ll let them know.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: You could be a little bit fast, sir. One, two, three, four.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

999: That’s it, that’s good.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: They’re still not coming back.

999: OK, you keep doing what you’re doing, we’ll let them know.

(IS continues counting from one to four).

IS: He has waved at me and walked away.

999: He’s letting you know he’s there – has he stopped? Have they seen you? You keep doing what you’re doing until they’re ready.

(heard on IS end) Paramedic: Excuse me sir, what’s happened here?

IS: She’s had a fit.

999: Right, are they with you sir?

IS: Yeah.

999: Right, I’ll leave you with them.

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