Killer Hazel Stewart weeps as her family beg the court for clemency
Separated from her children by two glass partitions, Hazel Stewart wept as her son and daughter smiled at her from the public gallery at Belfast Crown Court.
She turned to look at them from the dock as they took their seats directly behind her, alongside her husband David Stewart.
During her pre-sentence hearing yesterday it emerged that her children Andrew and Lisa, whose father she murdered, wrote to the judge, Mr Justice Hart, pleading for clemency. Her husband also wrote to the judge.
“The children were not babes-in-arms, they have memories of their father. They know she played a role but they still stand by her,” Stewart’s defence barrister Paul Ramsey QC told the court.
Earlier Stewart looked dejected until her children, husband and other family members came into the courtroom. They waved and smiled warmly at her and mouthed towards her: “Are you OK?” Her husband appeared to say to her “hold tight”.
She nodded in reply and mouthed back: “Are you OK?”
Stewart was convicted last Wednesday of killing her first husband Trevor Buchanan and her ex-lover Colin Howell’s wife Lesley in May 1991.
Their bodies were discovered in a fume-filled car in Castlerock and, for almost two decades, their murders were covered up as a suicide pact.
Howell, who gassed his victims and then fashioned the suicide scene, is currently serving a 21-year prison sentence.
Mr Buchanan’s family and Mrs Howell’s daughter Lauren were also in court yesterday as Crown prosecutor Ciaran Murphy QC told the judge that, when considering Stewart’s sentence, he should take into account a number of aggravating factors.
He said the murders were planned and discussed with Stewart; she had knowledge of the murder plot and agreed to it, and she also ensured that her husband was at home on the night he was to be killed.
Mr Murphy added that Stewart encouraged her husband to take a tablet, knowing that he had to be sedated before the murder.
She also destroyed the hosepipe that was used to gas her husband and Mrs Howell and fabricated a story to fool people into believing the victims had taken their own lives, the barrister told the court.
He added that Stewart had benefited financially from the murder of her RUC Constable husband in the form of insurance and a police pension.
Mr Murphy said he accepted that Stewart is entitled to a reduction in her sentence because she played a secondary role in the murders.
“But you cannot escape that she was willingly complicit and facilitated the plan in order to continue her relationship with Howell,” he added.
Stewart’s defence barrister said it is not true to say that she has shown no remorse for the murders. He said that in her police interviews she was “clearly remorseful and clearly upset”.
“Significantly, the prosecution accept she was a secondary part. Howell said at her trial that he was the mastermind. There is a significant distinction between the role of Howell and the accused and I would ask his Lordship to give consideration to that,” Mr Ramsey said.
He urged Mr Justice Hart to show “justice and fairness that adequately reflects her role and takes into account the urgings of her children and her husband to show mercy”.
At the mention of her children and husband Stewart once again wept, and dabbed her face with a handkerchief.
Dressed in the same plum coat that she wore throughout her trial, her face was free of make-up and her hair was not as perfectly groomed as it once was.
As she was led without handcuffs from the dock, Judge Hart agreed that her children could speak with her before she was taken back to prison.
He adjourned sentencing until Wednesday.