Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Mrs Ordinary always wanted the best

Hazel Stewart, who has been found guilty of double murder

Hazel Stewart was always dressed to kill.

The sixth eldest of a family of 10 from Omagh, she was immaculately turned out and only bought the best as she fingered the clothes rails of designer wear at some of Northern Ireland's top fashion stores.

Hazel played the piano and attended Omagh High School but she was not academically-minded. Even then she was more interested in style and appearance than her maths and English. She worked in a shop for a time - it is where she first met Trevor Buchanan - and then as a stitcher in a shirt factory. They married in July 1981 and had two children.

Trevor served as an RUC officer in Beragh and Castlederg, close to the Tyrone-Donegal border at a time when the IRA bombing and shooting offensive claimed many lives, including some of his own colleagues. Three brothers were policemen as well: Victor, who was badly injured in an attack in Co Fermanagh, Raymond and Gordon.

He lived in Omagh and was then transferred to Coleraine, a town which was relatively free of day-to-day terrorist violence, although it suffered as well.

Hazel was close to her family, especially her mother, and found it difficult to settle in an area she was not familiar with. But given their religious backgrounds -Trevor, who smoked and drank in his early days, did not attend the Baptist Church until he started going out with Hazel - it was inevitable that Coleraine Baptist Church would be get two new members.

There were a lot of young, professional couples taking their seats on a Sunday morning back then, among them the confident Colin Howell, a dentist, and his wife Lesley.

It was worship within a close knit and oppressive hierarchical community with little privacy, and where everybody tended to know each other's business which essentially dictated a strict code of conduct among the members. Hazel, who worked as an assistant at a children's playschool, went on to take the Sunday school but stepped back once her affair with Howell became known.

Then there were the deaths and a subsequent police investigation which, as it later turned out, was hopelessly inept and wide of the mark. The church, at the time, was deeply embarrassed and later tensions - some related to the deaths -developed between the elders and their minister.

One man who was on the periphery of Hazel's circle of friends claimed that no matter how well she dressed and looked, she always had the face of a haunted woman. "She didn't swear and I'm not sure she would have had a good personality," he said. "Her personality would not have been one of her greater assets. She was a two-dimensional person - a good-looking beautiful woman, but yet there was no great depth there."

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