Belfast Telegraph

Hazel Stewart: After decades of silence, the truth finally emerged

By Victoria O'Hara

A double murder, fake suicide pact and a secret affair— the trial of killer Hazel Stewart captivated and shocked Northern Ireland.

After 20 years of silence the horrendous truth finally emerged about the former Sunday school teacher’s involvement and continued cover-up in killing spouses Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell.

Her ex-lover Colin Howell, had already confessed to carrying out the evil crime in 1991 after walking into a police station in 2009.

Using a specially adapted hose attached to his car exhaust, Howell gassed his wife as she lay sleeping on the sofa in their Coleraine home.

He then put her body in the boot of his car and drove to Stewart's house, where he gassed her husband as he slept in bed.

Howell (51) then left the bodies in the car filled with carbon monoxide and parked it in a garage in Castlerock.

Wracked with guilt, the wealthy dentist admitted he had managed to disguise the brutal double murder as a suicide pact.

He was sentenced to life in November 2010.

But Stewart — a mother of two — denied being an accomplice and so the trial that exposed so many astonishing revelations began in Coleraine.

For 15 days a jury of nine men and three women sat and listened as the 48-year-old was portrayed by the defence as submissive, defenceless and weak.

She said the reason she didn't help her husband was because she was terrified Howell would kill her and her children.

But for four days during the trial Howell took the stand during a marathon testimony, describing being trapped in a spider's web woven by his former lover.

He described how Stewart seduced him at the outset of their affair. “Flies go into spiders' webs because they think there is some food for them there and I willingly went after the bait, and we got caught together in the trap,” he told the jury.

During their affair, it was revealed, Howell used laughing gas to knock out Stewart during sex so the devout Baptist would not feel guilt.

It also emerged during the case she had to travel to London for a secret abortion after becoming pregnant.

On the night of the murders she encouraged her husband Trevor to take a temazepam tablet because she knew he had to be sedated.

She opened the door to Howell and did nothing to dissuade him from murdering her husband in his own bed.

After her husband was killed she provided clean clothes for Howell to dress him in.

She then cut up and burned the hosepipe and changed the sheets on the bed where he had been killed.

The jury took two-and-a-half hours to find her guilty. Stewart never took to the stand in her own defence.

Sentencing her to life, Mr Justice Hart said that Stewart's involvement in the murders was secondary to Howell's, but added that her responsibility for what happened “was very substantial”.

Stewart, who will serve 18 years in jail—began to cry as she looked towards her children and her distraught husband David and mouthed the words: “It's okay. It will be okay.”

The judge said that although Howell was the main perpetrator, her culpability was “exceptionally high” because she knew in advance what Howell was going to do, and yet she did nothing to prevent the killings.

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