Belfast Telegraph

Hazel Stewart isn’t innocent but she’s no killer, court is told

By Deborah McAleese

Former Sunday school teacher Hazel Stewart is guilty of assisting a double killer, but she is not a murderer, a jury has been told.

Summing up the defence case on day 13 of her double murder trial, Paul Ramsey QC told Coleraine Crown Court yesterday that Stewart’s role was “subservient” to the role of her former lover, killer dentist Colin Howell.

“She is not innocent. She is guilty of assisting an offender, withholding information, perverting the course of justice, perjury. But she hasn’t been charged with anything other than murder,” he said. “They (the prosecution) have gone for broke. They have charged her with both murders.

“Her role was wholly subservient to Colin Howell’s. He did this for his own selfish ends,” said Mr Ramsey.

He said Stewart could not have been in a joint enterprise with Howell who regarded her as weak, vulnerable and easy to control.

However, prosecution barrister Ciaran Murphy QC told the jury of nine men and three women that the mother-of-two from |Macosquin, Coleraine, had agreed to carry out the murders of her husband Trevor Buchanan and Howell’s wife Lesley so that she and Howell could continue their relationship.

He said she helped execute a plan to sacrifice the life of her husband and kill her then lover's wife with carbon monoxide fumes.

“If she had an inkling of humanity for her husband, she would have intervened. She chose not to,” he said.

Mr Murphy described the murder of her husband as a “gruesome extermination”. He said: “It is a bit like employing a hitman to kill someone, they do the dirty

work, you don't become involved.

“That does not mean that you are not responsible. You would not watch that being done to a dog in the street if you had any grain of humanity, never mind your husband of 10 years.”

Stewart, who turned 48 today, denies murdering her husband and Mrs Howell in May 1991. Their bodies were discovered in a fume-filled car in a garage at Castlerock. It was thought they had died in a suicide pact.

Howell is currently serving a 21-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to the murders. The original police investigation into the deaths were criticised by Mr Ramsey.

“The police say this was nearly the perfect murder. They have to say that because of the inadequacies of the first investigation. It suits police to say this was a |sophisticated and cunning plan. We say it was daring, but hastily put together,” he said. Mr Ramsey suggested that suspicions should have been raised about the deaths at the time |because of a number of factors:

  • While this was supposedly a double suicide, both parties died alone at different ends of the car.
  • Mrs Howell was surrounded by photographs but none were of her children and the photographs were facing away from her.
  • The pipe was not tied tightly to the exhaust and the tailgate of the car was blocking fumes getting into the vehicle.
  • The windows of the car were open.
  • Mrs Howell’s friend raised concerns with police about Howell’s financial affairs.

Stewart’s defence team are due to finish summing up their case today before the judge issues guidance and direction to the jury. The jury will then be released to consider their verdict.

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