Northamptonshire vicar 'sick' at memory of comforting double-murderer Ian Stewart

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A vicar who officiated at the funeral of a woman later found to have been murdered by her husband has spoken of feeling "absolutely sick" at the conviction of the killer he comforted.

Diane Stewart died at her home in Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire in 2010 and for many years the cause was thought to have been an epileptic seizure.

But when her widower Ian Stewart was found guilty in 2017 of the murder of his fiancee Helen Bailey, police began to look at Mrs Stewart's death once more - and a jury this month convicted her husband of her murder too.

Revd Dr Donald McFadyen was the parish vicar in the village at the time and recalled comforting the family over their tragic loss, in the days before Stewart's crimes had come to light.

He said Mrs Stewart had been someone who "embodied sunshine" and her sudden death had been a "huge shock" to the community.

The Reverend Dr Donald McFadyen. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"One of the most important roles that people like me who are priests in the Church of England have is to go and look after people when they are bereaved, so that's what I did," he said.

"I went round to see the family on a number of occasions and saw them preparing for the funeral."

He added: "I'd have given Ian a hug, I'd have done my best to comfort him and hearing all that he was remembering of his marriage.

"And to think all of that was a sham, a lie, is horrible."

Stewart was convicted after police saw the similarities between Mrs Stewart's death and that of Ms Bailey, whom he met on a dating group for bereaved singles.

Ian Stewart will never be released from prison. Credit: Police

He drugged and killed her at their £1.5m home near Royston in Hertfordshire, and dumped her body in the septic tank alongside her pet dog Boris.

Earlier this year a trial at Huntingdon Crown Court heard that Mrs Stewart had been found unresponsive in her back garden, with her death put down to sudden death in epilepsy (SUDEP).

But experts were able to analyse parts of her brain she had donated to medical science.

Prosecutors told the jury "the cause of death was most likely caused by a prolonged restriction of her breathing from an outside source" - calling into question Stewart's long-maintained version of events. He was convicted unanimously on 9 February.

The children's author Helen Bailey was murdered by Ian Stewart in Royston in 2016 Credit: Family photo

Rev McFadyen, who now works in the parish of Warmington in Northamptonshire, said he had been shocked to hear news of the verdict, after which Stewart was described by police as a "master manipulator".

"I thought 'how on earth are his boys going to come to terms with the fact their father is a murderer?'" he said.

"Then in the days following I relived some of the memories of going into their house, and realising the whole thing was a sham."