Northern Ireland’s most notorious female offenders, including double killer Hazel Stewart, have been treated to a professional performance of a play about knife crime at Hydebank Wood prison.
It’s understood Stewart, the accomplice of killer dentist Colin Howell, was one of those in the audience at Hydebank during a production of the The Long Road by the prestigious Lyric Theatre yesterday afternoon.
Stewart (49) was found guilty of killing her former husband and her ex-lover’s wife. Last year she was handed down an 18-year sentence for the murders, while her former lover Howell was given 21 years for the crimes.
Police originally thought the murdered pair died in a suicide pact after finding out Stewart and Howell were having an affair.
The killings only came to light 18 years later when Howell dramatically confessed and implicated Stewart, who denied any guilt.
Hydebank Wood Prison currently houses around 40 women including those who committed some of the most horrific crimes in Northern Ireland — including Julie McGinley, who was jailed for a minimum of 15 years in 2003 for murdering her husband Gerry.
Another of the most notorious offenders is Jacqueline Crymble who was jailed for a minimum of 20 years for the murder of her husband Paul along with her former lover Roger Ferguson.
The production tells the story of a fatal stabbing by a young woman who was “off her head” on drugs and follows how the victim’s family deal with their grief.
Playwright Shelagh Stephenson spent many hours talking to victims and perpetrators of violent crime ahead of the production.
The Lyric’s creative director Richard Croxford said he was impressed with how the play was received by the prisoners and the questions posed afterwards.
“The production went fantastically well. The prisoners sat attentively throughout and laughed in the right places,” he added.
Another high-profile prisoner being held at Hydebank is crucifix killer Karen Walsh.
The Galway-born pharmacist was found guilty of the murder of Newry neighbour Maire Rankin (81) on Christmas morning in 2008.
The cast returns to Hydebank Wood next week to perform for young male offenders.
The Long Road runs in the Naughton Studio at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast until October 21.