Convicted murderer Hazel Stewart breaks silence over shocking deaths
Hazel Stewart has insisted that she did not know that her lover Colin Howell was planning to murder her husband and his wife.
The convicted double killer has spoken publicly for the first time about the brutal crime and claimed that she thought Howell was coming to her house for sex on the night her husband was murdered.
In an exclusive interview, the Belfast Telegraph went inside Hydebank Women’s Prison to meet the woman whose trial horrified people across the province.
She also claims that she did not intervene to help her husband on the night he died because she was afraid Howell would kill her and her daughter. Stewart also speaks of her amazement that police believed that the double death was suicide.
Last month Stewart, a former Sunday School teacher, was convicted of killing her husband Trevor Buchanan and her lover’s wife Lesley Howell.
Her ex-lover Colin Howell had already confessed to his role in the double murder.
By 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.
At the end of Hazel Stewart’s trial a jury decided that she was also guilty of murder after accepting that she knew in advance what her lover was planning to do.
Stewart was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Just one month into that sentence Stewart, who did not take to the witness stand, has finally broken her silence.
She never broke down as she spoke but her eyes often brimmed with tears as she told me about her affair with Howell and the double murder of which they were both convicted.
Having prayed about it every night, she believes God has forgiven her, but she cannot quite forgive herself for succumbing to a fatal attraction that led to an abortion, two murders and years of lies.
Looking into her face, just inches away from me in Hydebank prison, it was obvious that she could not have contained her emotions under hostile questioning. Her second husband David Stewart had to clasp her hands to calm her as her emotions boiled over.
Stewart insists she never had any intention to kill her husband Trevor and only found out about the murder of Lesley Howell, her lover’s wife, after it had happened.
Dentist Howell seduced her after meeting her at the Coleraine Baptist church which they both attended.
“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,” she said.
When Lesley and Trevor, the wronged partners, found out about the affair her husband Trevor was prepared to turn a blind eye.
“Trevor really loved me, he was quite a soft person,” she said.
Lesley Howell, on the other hand, threatened to ditch her cheating husband and he feared losing access to his children.
The two wronged partners were meeting and discussing their joint problem.
Hazel believes that Howell wanted to marry her, or, if that was not possible, keep her sexually available without losing his children.
He told her one night, when they were in a car together, “all our problems would be over if those two were dead” but then laughed, and seemed to pass it off as a joke.
She is adamant that she believed he never really meant to kill them.
“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,” she said.
She later referred, in police interviews, to “the plan” but she now says that she was only following the language used by the detectives questioning her.
However she was frightened of Howell.
Early in the affair she had an abortion at his urging and he preached to her that this had put a curse on her.
“It was as if he had nothing to do with it and it was all down to me,” she said.
She claims that she wanted to reconcile with her husband Trevor but feared that Howell would fulfil a threat to reveal the abortion if she did not keep seeing him.
“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,” she said.
When he wanted to meet her for sex “we had a code, he would ring the phone once and then I would ring him back,” she said.
Sometimes their assignations took place in their home as her husband slept.
As she recounted this detail her eyes brimmed with tears, and it was one of the rare times she did not meet my gaze. That signal had been used on the night in 1991 when Mr Howell turned up at her home with his wife’s body in the boot of his car.
She thought he was coming for sex when she let him in. “He told me, ‘I have Lesley’s body in the boot’ but I didn’t believe him at first,” she said.
A short time later he killed her husband by using a tube to take carbon monoxide from the car exhaust. There was a struggle. She says that, seeing what he was capable of, she was afraid to intervene.
She says she dared not cross him in case he would kill her or her daughter Lisa who was asleep in a bedroom. Hazel Stewart admits cutting up and disposing of the tube Howell used and lying to the police afterwards, telling them that her husband had gone out that morning to meet Lesley.
The two bodies were later placed by Howell in a garage in Castlerock and passed off as a double suicide.
“Howell told me what to tell the police,” she says, “I couldn’t believe they accepted it was suicide, could they not see what happened? It was obvious.”
Initially she thought the police would be back to her but continued the affair with Howell for more than five years before ending it.
She attributes this to fear that he would implicate her, as he eventually did. “He seemed capable of anything,” she said.
She claims to have suffered agonies of conscience over the ensuing years but didn’t tell her second husband David.
“It was bad enough without dragging David and the kids into it,” she says. “It was always hanging over me, I always believed Howell might bring it out if he got annoyed,” she said. “I felt that it would help nobody to bring all this out.”
David Stewart and Lisa, her daughter, say she was clearly disturbed but put it down to guilt that two people had committed suicide as a result of her infidelity.
“If we asked her ‘what's wrong Hazel' she would just tell us she was having a bad day,” David Stewart said.
Hazel’s daughter Lisa believes her mother was right to try and keep the awful truth under wraps. “I am glad to know that my father did not commit suicide but now I have lost my mother too,” Lisa said.