Murder accused breaks down as confession played to court
Published 24/02/2011 | 05:00
A former Sunday school teacher broke down in the dock yesterday as she listened to a tearful police recording of her admitting and saying sorry for plotting the murders of her policeman husband and her lover's wife.
Hazel Stewart held her head in her hands and cried as the emotional confession to detectives was played to a packed Coleraine Crown Court on the 11th day of her double-murder trial.
After a series of denials over the course of two days of intensive interrogation after her arrest in early 2009, the mother of two finally acknowledged her involvement in the murderous plan conceived by her then lover Colin Howell to poison her husband Trevor Buchanan and Howell's wife Lesley, and make it look like suicide.
Howell is serving 21 years after pleading guilty to the murders last year.
Ms Stewart's children Lisa, who also wept, and Andrew and second husband David sat in the public gallery as the dramatic conclusion of her final interview was played to the jury.
Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris, who described the crimes in May 1991 as "nearly the perfect murder" during the interview in Coleraine police station, put it to her: "Colin Howell could not have done this on his own and you could not have done it on your own Hazel; this had to be a joint enterprise between the two of you, the two of you had to work together to make this plan come to fruition, do you accept that?
She replied: "Yes."
The officer added: "Sorry, just for the benefit of the tape."
Ms Stewart repeated her answer again, twice: "Yes, yes."
The 47-year-old secretary, from Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, who yesterday wiped her eyes with a handkerchief as she sat in the dock, now denies being part of a joint enterprise to murder her husband and Mrs Howell. But on the last of 15 taped interviews two years ago, she cried as she apologised for her actions.
Under cross-examination, Ms Stewart's defence lawyer Peter Sefton questioned the strategy Det Sgt Ferris employed when interviewing his client and suggested he had taken what Howell claimed in his confession as absolute truth.
The detective denied that was his approach. "It was important for me to put to Hazel Stewart what Colin Howell was saying and invite her to agree or disagree," he said.
The officer said at the time of the interview he had no reason to doubt Howell's version of events, but when pressed on whether he thought the dentist was telling the truth, he replied: "Only Colin Howell can say that."
Mr Sefton also pointed out that during the latter interviews, the detective accused Ms Stewart of mentioning two issues for the first time.
The lawyer said the transcripts showed that she had talked about the matters -- her claim she told Howell "No" when he arrived at the house, and that he told her to go and wait in a spare room -- in earlier interviews.
The officer responded: "If there's a slight error in what is being said, it was not deliberate."
The trial continues.