Hazel Stewart: transcript of her prison interview
A transcript of the conversation between Hazel Stewart and the Belfast Telegraph’s Liam Clarke
Did you love Colin Howell?
At first I was in love with him, but when you are having an affair you don’t really know a person; you are not living with them. It is all spiced by the thrill of illicit meetings.
When did you hear of his plan to murder your husband and his wife?
As far as I knew there was no plan. He didn’t tell me about any plan; it seemed more like a fantasy he had. When I was with him in a car, he once said, ‘all our problems would be over if those two were dead’, but then he laughed and turned it round as if it was a joke.
What did you think was |happening when he told you he was coming to your home to kill your husband?
I was trying to get on with Trevor but I was meeting Howell. It was mad but I felt I had to keep him happy. When he wanted to meet we had a code — he would ring the phone once, with one ring, and then I would ring him back. That was the code he used that night.
You thought he was coming for sex?
Yes. Yes. He told me, ‘I have Lesley’s body in the boot’, but I didn’t believe him at first.
Did you drug Trevor? You might have done that if you thought Howell was coming for sex.
You might, and Howell claimed I did, but that never happened. I did not give Trevor Tamazapan or anything like that.
Were you surprised the police accepted the story?
Howell told me what to tell the police, that Trevor had gone out to meet Lesley, and they just accepted it. I couldn’t believe they accepted it was suicide — could they not see what happened? It was obvious.
What do you think of the public reaction during the trial and when you were convicted?
You just have to ask the people who know me. These people do not know me, they were just doing something to sell a paper and get money.
The public perception is of a cold woman who held this terrible secret for two decades and would have taken it to the grave.
I am not a stony cold person. In court I didn’t react to anything because I had to keep myself together, I was shaking, I was nervous for the sake of my children and David. They didn’t have to see me falling apart. It was extremely difficult to keep it together for 20 years. It was a very hard, hard thing to live with and I suppose what kept me going was just that I had to get my children through. I had to be a strong mother to them. If I was someone who was going to be crying or upset or depressed or on tablets I would be no use to them. I am glad that I was as strong as I was for them because to me they had turned out very well.
So if you had to do it again |you might do the samebecause at least you raised your children?
Well they were important. I had a responsibility to them and looking back, I know what you are saying, I should have come forward at the beginning. I maybe should have, but I didn’t. Looking back with hindsight it is easy to say what somebody should do. I should have spoken up then, which I regret. But as time went on I had to make the most of what I could and do the most I could for my children.
It is possible that if you had spoken up they would have been taken into care.
That is very possible, and what sort of life would they be living today.
How do you intend to rebuild your life when you get out?
The people who care are David and Lisa and Andrew [her husband, daughter and son] and family and friends. They are very, very important to me and I think if you have your family that is all you need. The papers will certainly have their say and try to wreck that and try to destroy it. They mean nothing to me. They are not my life, but my family mean everything to me. Any sin has consequence. You never ever forget, it never really goes away.
Why did you not take the stand in the trial?
The reason I didn’t take the stand was because once Howell had given his evidence and then they played my tape they felt that my tape was my evidence and the barrister didn’t feel that I had to take the stand. [He said] ‘That really is your evidence, that is your voice. You don’t really need to say anything more.’ But it was my choice at the end, though he was advising me it would be better not to.
Did you intend to give |evidence before you heard Howell?
I had been told from the very beginning that I would be giving evidence. I had myself in no way prepared and was extremely nervous about it.
Would you give evidence if there was a retrial?
Yes, I think I would have to.
What did you think of the sexual details which Colin Howell went into?
They were horrible. They were fantasy. Some of them weren’t right and there was no need for that in a courtroom.
Did you feel that you would be questioned in detail about what did happen sexually?
That’s right. That should not have gone on, I believed, in a courtroom. The sexual details seemed to be very important to Howell, in fact it was all he talked about.
Did you feel guilty keeping this secret?
Yes of course you feel the guilt of everything, of not being able to unburden and say exactly what happened. It is a dreadful thing for anyone to have to deal with. People say, ‘you must be a hard, cold person’. Absolutely not. To live with that is extremely painful.
Do you still maintain your innocence of the two murders?
Yes I do.
But you admit cover-up offences such as lying to the police, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, assisting an offender?
Yes. I do.
Did you profit from the deaths?
Absolutely not. The police pension was £200-odd pounds a month. There was an endowment policy on my house, which everybody had, and that cleared the house. There was no private insurance, I had nothing like that. The police pension has now stopped.
My husband Trevor was earning a lot more so, in money terms alone. I would have been better off if he was alive. If I had married Howell, as he wanted — he had plenty of money at that time, but it was never going to happen.
What are your hopes for the appeal?
I hope they will carefully look at the whole thing again and reconsider it.