Documentary on husband of double-killer Hazel Stewart made for difficult viewing
Sex, murder and religion were the three lurid ingredients that combined to make the Hazel Stewart trial so compelling. But The Perfect Murder, a locally-produced Channel Four documentary about the case which was broadcast last night, told us little we hadn't heard already.
After all, we know all the salacious details, having eagerly devoured them at the time.
We've heard Colin Howell's evidence before: his wife's dying cry for her son, the hose that Hazel cut up and burned.
We've heard about the pain of Hazel's children Lisa and Andrew, and their loyalty to their mother. And we certainly know the outcome of Hazel's trial: an 18 year minimum sentence. So nothing new there, then.
What this documentary does offer, however, is an insight into the life of Hazel's second husband, David Stewart, and how he is coping with the situation.
For the first time we see inside David and Hazel's immaculate, interior-designed home where, as the narrator woodenly intones, they were “living the dream” until the day the police came knocking on the door.
On the wall is a large photograph of the couple that Hazel had taken before the trial, something for David to hold on to if the verdict didn't go her way.
We also see David in various artificial-looking domestic set-ups: cooking himself a solitary dinner, working out on the cross-trainer in the garage, expressing his distaste for the media portrayal of Hazel by sweeping newspapers into his tastefully-recessed kitchen bin.
We even see him hosting a weekly prayer meeting in his home. Members of the couple's Baptist church are shown sitting on Hazel's expensive cream leather sofas, asking God to help her endure her predicament. Apparently, David and Hazel read identical passages from the Bible at the same time every day, as a way of staying connected through their faith. As a viewer, this feels like a case of too much information. You feel uncomfortably voyeuristic watching and hearing about these private intimacies.
David seems like a genuine, loyal — if understandably bewildered — man. Who wouldn't feel sorry for him as he admits: “I feel lonely. But I cope.” Yet, it's hard to understand why he has allowed us all to peer into his personal life in this way. He must have already had enough unwanted scrutiny to last a lifetime. With his wife locked up in jail, only permitted to see him for one hour a week, he's already vulnerable — why would he make himself more so?
The answer to that, one assumes, is David Stewart's insistence that his wife is innocent, a victim of Howell's psychological control, and his desperate need to convince the rest of the world of that viewpoint.
You suspect that the evangelical zeal he brings to the subject is what keeps him going through those long, lonely nights in his big empty designer home. Hazel herself is absent from most of the film, appearing only in old video footage and photographs which show her as a younger, softer-faced woman, smiling into the camera, her cross sparkling around her neck.
At the very end, we finally get to hear Hazel's voice for the first time.
It crackles over David's car speaker phone as she calls him from prison. She sounds normal, unremarkable.
But that very normality has always been the most shocking thing about this case.