Fears were growing last night over the health of Hazel Stewart after she was heard saying that she had made her “peace with God”.
Prison sources have raised fears over how the double killer will adapt to life within Hydebank jail where she is beginning a life sentence for the murders of her husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, her former lover’s wife.
A jury at Coleraine Crown Court took less than two hours to decide that the former Sunday school teacher had joined with Colin Howell in a murder plot which has horrified people across Northern Ireland.
Stewart is set to learn next week how long she must spend in prison. Facing the reality of living the next 10 to 20 years of her life within the female wing of Hydebank Wood Young Offenders’ Centre will have hit Hazel Stewart hard yesterday.
Coping with “first day blues”, as some prison officers refer to it, will have taken its toll on the once buoyant policeman’s wife who wore designer label clothes and carried matching bags.
The once sharply-dressed double killer will know full well the limitations placed on her daily life in Ash House by the time she appears for sentence in Belfast.
She may be able to fit in a hairdressing appointment with the visiting Ash House stylist before she appears at Belfast Crown Court, but beyond that the comfortable, privileged life she knew at Ballystrone Road in Macosquin has gone, perhaps forever.
Hazel Stewart became the seventh life sentence prisoner to join the Ash House cast on Wednesday evening, devastated by the swift verdict reached by the nine-man and three-woman jury that |convicted her.
Custody staff reported hearing her mutter that she had “made her peace with God”, increasing concerns that she is in an extremely vulnerable mental state which will require constant monitoring for the foreseeable future.
Whether fellow inmates and murderers Julie McGinley and Jacqueline Crymble give her the peace and space to come to terms with the reality of her new situation remains to be seen, but she will not be able to shut them out of her life, or even her cell, which she cannot lock.
Seeing who can make a new inmate cry first is one of the ‘contests’ staged in both male and female sections of prisons, and Ash House is no exception.
Yesterday morning Hazel Stewart will have been roused around 7.45am and invited to come for breakfast, where she would have learned who she will rub shoulders with every day in her new home.
She will also have had a meeting with her class officer and her
vocational training instructor. That will have been particularly tough because she spent no time on remand to prepare her for jail.
The wearing of a wristwatch will be permitted and perhaps a tiny amount of jewellery, like a wedding ring, provided they could not be used to inflict injury on other prisoners or staff, or used to cause self-harm.
She will have been given a menu list on Wednesday night to choose meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner yesterday. She will also have been given a prison serial number beginning with the letter A, which prison staff say denotes a life sentence prisoner.
Visit application forms will also have been provided to allow her to send out visit passes to her loved-ones for the next four weeks.
She will also have been given prison-headed notepaper to write letters on, but warned that every word she writes will be scrutinised and letters returned to her if they contain any derogatory comments about anyone or any other improper scribbling.
A prison source told the Belfast Telegraph: “The first 48 hours are the most difficult for any first-timer, especially a life sentence prisoner who has never even contemplated being in this type of environment. The culture shock is beyond huge.
“There is depression and despair in those first 48 hours which can lead people to try to take their own lives so every procedure will be followed to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“The Governor will have explained to Hazel Stewart on Wednesday night the rules of Ash House and the punishments for breaching those rules and will have reminded her formally that she has been convicted of taking other people’s lives and is a life sentence prisoner.
“That little talk from the Governor can have an impact as salutary as the jury’s verdict.”
Hazel Stewart has already become the victim of prison humour. Prison officers are texting each other with jokes about her. One text reads: “In one day Hazel Stewart has swapped a BMW 5 series for a white van, a detached house for a 6x10 room and red wine for a pint of milk... but at least the gym membership |is free.”
Another text reads: “I am just laughing at the idea of Hazel Stewart queuing up to use the toaster in the morning. I hear she has expensive tastes, well she should fit right in as it costs £96,000 to live in Ash House per person per year.”