Editor's Viewpoint: Verdict clear but questions remain
It was a classic courtroom drama filled with tales of passion, greed, deceit and murder which kept the entire province engrossed as revelation followed revelation. Hazel Stewart, a former Sunday school teacher, had formed what was to prove a very dangerous liaison with wealthy dentist Colin Howell, leading to the deaths of their respective spouses. Cunningly, Howell had managed to disguise the double murder as a suicide pact by leaving the victims in a car filled with carbon monoxide.
Yesterday a jury found that Stewart was a willing accomplice and she is now, like the previously convicted Howell, beginning a life sentence. What the manipulative couple did was evil and unforgivable, leaving two families destroyed. At last, justice has been done for their murdered spouses but the impact of the crime still reverberates around the wider family circles.
The murders were only revealed two decades after the event when Howell, wracked by guilt, confessed to police. They had been almost the perfect murders. Yet questions remain. Was the original police investigation into the deaths sufficiently robust? Did others who had their suspicions about the couple withhold vital information, either wittingly or unwittingly. Quite rightly the Police Ombudsman has been asked to examine the initial probe.
But, above all, this is now a time to remember the victims, Stewart's husband, Trevor Buchanan, and Howell's wife, Lesley, who died with her young son's name on her lips. Both of them left young children who grew up believing that they had taken their own lives, while the real killers were still standing beside them. For those now adult children, the disclosures must have been extremely painful. They were robbed of a father and a mother and having the facts of their deaths outlined in court must have been like revisiting the original trauma. And now they have lost their remaining parents, who will languish behind bars for years.