Stewart guilty of double murder
A former Sunday school teacher has started a life sentence after being convicted of murdering her policeman husband and her lover's wife, and covering the deaths up as suicide.
Hazel Stewart, 48, was driven at speed from Coleraine Crown Court in a blacked-out custody van to Hydebank women's prison in Belfast after a jury found her guilty of killing Pc Trevor Buchanan, 32, and Lesley Howell, 31, wife of her former lover Colin Howell, in May 1991.
There were highly-charged emotional scenes in the courtroom as her two children Lisa and Andrew and second husband David broke down and wept uncontrollably as the unanimous verdicts were read out.
The one-time playgroup assistant from Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, sobbed and breathed heavily in the dock as Judge Justice Anthony Hart imposed a life term. He said he would set the minimum term she must serve at a court hearing in Belfast next week. It is understood her legal team are considering an appeal.
Her ex-lover Howell, a once-respected dentist and lay preacher, is already serving a 21-year-sentence after pleading guilty to gassing their spouses as they slept in their houses in Coleraine.
For almost 20 years, police believed the pair had taken their own lives in a bizarre suicide pact until Howell, apparently wracked by guilt, confessed to elders in his church two years ago.
After the court hearing, Pc Buchanan's brother Gordon said the revelations over how he died had accentuated the family's long burden of pain.
He said: "While there is immense satisfaction that justice for Trevor has finally been achieved, there is no sense of victory and no cause for celebration as nothing can bring Trevor and Lesley back to us, and all families connected to this matter have been grievously impacted."
Mrs Howell's daughter, Lauren Bradford, who is still in contact with her father, Colin Howell, paid emotional tribute to her memory.
She said: "We mourn our mother, Lesley, and are pained at the time and the memories that we have been so denied. We rejoice in the contribution our mum made to our lives in the short time we had together. We know her to have been a loving, devoted mother, and we bitterly regret the horrible way in which she was taken from us."