Thursday 8 December 2016

Woman 'used lover as hitman'

Court told mum could have stopped murder

Michael McHugh and Deric Henderson

Published 01/03/2011 | 05:00

Murder accused Hazel Stewart (right) leaves Coleraine Crown Court accompanied by her daughter Lisa after the proceedings yesterday
Murder accused Hazel Stewart (right) leaves Coleraine Crown Court accompanied by her daughter Lisa after the proceedings yesterday

A woman used her lover as a hitman to murder the father of her children, a jury heard yesterday.

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Crown lawyer Ciaran Murphy told Coleraine Crown Court that Hazel Stewart (47) was part of a plan that she helped execute to sacrifice the life of her policeman husband and kill her then lover's wife with carbon monoxide fumes.

He added the killings were a joint enterprise, a plan executed by dentist Colin Howell and Ms Stewart to rid themselves of their respective spouses for them to be together.

Mother-of-two Ms Stewart's defence lawyer, Paul Ramsey, said she was guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information, but was innocent of murder.

However, Mr Murphy claimed she could have stopped the killing.

"If she had an inkling of humanity for her husband, she would have intervened at that point, if she had any thought for him at all. She chose not to," he said.

Ms Stewart, from Ballystrone Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, who has denied the two murders, sat impassively in the dock as Mr Murphy urged the jury to find her guilty in his closing submission.

Her husband, PC Trevor Buchanan (32), and Lesley Howell (31), the wife of her lover, were found dead in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in a garage behind a row of houses known as the Twelve Apostles in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry, in May 1991.

At first, police thought they had died in some sort of suicide pact because of the distress over their spouses' affair. It was only when Howell (51) first confessed to his church elders and then police in January 2009 that he had murdered them that Ms Stewart was arrested by investigating detectives, the court heard.

Howell, a father of 10 from Glebe Road, Castlerock, is serving a 21-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to the murders.

He first gassed his wife as she slept on the sofa of their home in Coleraine. He then drove her body to the far side of the town, where he murdered Mr Buchanan by the same method before taking the two bodies away to stage-manage the suicide.

Mr Murphy branded it a "gruesome extermination".

Humanity

"It is a bit like employing a hitman to kill someone, they do the dirty work, you don't become involved. That does not mean that you are not responsible.

"Members of the jury, you would not watch that being done to a dog in the street if you had any grain of humanity, never mind your husband of 10 years, someone with whom you had a life and connection and two young children."

Ms Stewart admitted to police she did not stop Howell but claimed she was scared of him and frightened for herself and her children.

According to the prosecution, Ms Stewart took actions including making sure no car was in the garage when Howell pulled up at the house with his wife's body in the boot, ensuring her husband was drugged asleep and setting out clothes to dress his body in.

Defence submissions will continue today.

Irish Independent

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