Tears flow as Hazel's children beg for mercy
Published 12/03/2011 | 05:00
The children of a former Sunday school teacher who murdered their father and her lover's wife have pleaded with a judge to show their mother mercy, a court heard yesterday.
Hazel Stewart's daughter Lisa and son Andrew urged Justice Anthony Hart to show leniency when he comes to announce the minimum number of years she must serve in prison after being convicted of killing her policeman husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell almost 20 years ago.
As the children watched from the public gallery in Belfast Crown Court, defence lawyer Paul Ramsey QC said: "They have memories of their father and love for their father and they know she (Stewart) played a role in their father's death and nonetheless they stand by her."
Stewart's ex-lover -- 51-year-old dentist Colin Howell -- pleaded guilty to the double murder last year and is serving a 21-year sentence.
Stewart (above) wiped tears from her eyes as she turned to look at her children ahead of proceedings. They sat alongside her second husband David Stewart in the public gallery and a short distance from relatives of Mr Buchanan and Mrs Howell.
Mr Buchanan and Mrs Howell were found in a fume-filled garage in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry, in May 1991. Police thought they had died in a bizarre suicide pact until 18 years later when lay preacher Howell confessed that he had murdered them and staged the scene.
The jury at Stewart's trial unanimously accepted that she knew about the plan in advance.
Crown lawyer Ciaran Murphy referred in court to the victim impact statements submitted by the relatives of Mr Buchanan and Mrs Howell.
These included testimony from two of the Howells' children Lauren and Daniel, Mrs Howell's brother Christopher Clarke and Mr Buchanan's brothers and sisters.
"These provide profound material on the devastating effect those deaths had and continue to have upon the families," said Mr Murphy.
He stressed the feelings of guilt some had felt while living under the false impression that their loved ones thought they had no option other than to end their own lives.
Mr Murphy made reference to the statement of Mr Buchanan's brother Gordon, who recalled how his late father Jim had hugged his dead son.
"He outlines his father's reaction on seeing his son when he was dead and lifting him in his arms and saying to him, 'Why didn't you come to me, son.' He found that a heart-wrenching occasion," he said.
Mr Murphy said Stewart's decision to contest the charges and go to trial had compounded the victims' hurt.
"These dignified people have suffered a tragic event which will not leave them, and Hazel Stewart has a lot to answer for."
While noting her secondary role entitled her to a reduction in sentence, he said Stewart had been wholly complicit in the murderous plot.
The judge said he would consider all the facts presented to him and pass sentence on Wednesday morning.