Wednesday 7 December 2016

Woman accused of two murders declines to take witness stand

Jury can 'draw proper inference', warns judge

David Young and Deric Henderson

Published 25/02/2011 | 05:00

Hazel Stewart (right) and her daughter Lisa leaving court yesterday. Photo: Paul Faith / PA
Hazel Stewart (right) and her daughter Lisa leaving court yesterday. Photo: Paul Faith / PA

A FORMER Sunday-school teacher accused of murdering her policeman husband and her lover's wife will not give evidence at her trial.

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Her lawyer, Paul Ramsey QC, told judge Mr Justice Anthony Hart at Coleraine Crown Court yesterday that Hazel Stewart (47) would not take the stand.

She is accused of plotting with her ex-lover Colin Howell to kill his wife Lesley and her husband Trevor Buchanan in May 1991 and to cover it up as a suicide pact. She denies the charges.

The judge told the court: "The jury may draw such inference as would appear proper from her failure to (give evidence)."

Mr Ramsey said the defence would be calling no evidence.

The development came on the 12th day of the trial after crown lawyer Ciaran Murphy had closed the prosecution case.

The bodies of PC Buchanan (32) and Mrs Howell (31) were found in a car filled with carbon-monoxide fumes in Castlerock, Co Derry.

Police first believed that the pair died in a suicide pact because they were so depressed about the affair that their partners were having at the time.

Interviewed

But 18 years later, Howell confessed to elders in his church that he had killed them in their respective homes in Coleraine by gassing them with carbon monoxide piped from his car, then drove the bodies to Castlerock and staged the scene.

The dentist, who was sentenced to 21 years after pleading guilty to the murders last year, alleges that Ms Stewart was his accomplice.

Yesterday, the court heard tapes of Ms Stewart breaking down while being interviewed by police and admitting that she knew her husband was to be killed on the day it happened.

She also confessed to burning the hose pipe that Howell used to gas the pair and to deceiving police afterwards.

The secretary said she was aware that the plot involved drugging her husband so he would be weak when Howell arrived. However, she insisted that she did not give him a sedative and that he took one himself because he had been having problems sleeping.

She told detectives in the emotional interview two days after her arrest in January 2009 that if PC Buchanan had not taken a pill, then she would have had to act.

Ms Stewart claimed that she had wanted no part of the plan and that Howell had forced her into going along with it. But she acknowledged that she took no action to stop the murders going ahead.

Last week, Howell was transported from Maghaberry high-security prison to give evidence against his former mistress.

At the start of proceedings today, the court was read a brief letter the killer dentist had subsequently sent from his cell to the judge.

Sedative

In it he said he wanted to clarify minor details about the timing in relation to two incidents prior to the murders: one when he dangled an electric cable over his wife in the bath and the second when he made contact with Ms Stewart again after an enforced break in their affair ordered by church elders.

Ms Stewart's second husband, David, and children Andrew and Lisa sat yards from her in the public gallery.

On the opposite side of the court, one of Howell's daughters, Lauren, sat among relatives of PC Buchanan.

The prosecution recalled one witness -- Dr John Press -- just prior to closing its evidence.

The retired pathologist carried out post-mortem examinations on the two victims after their bodies were discovered.

Mr Murphy asked the doctor about the fact that he had found nothing in PC Buchanan's stomach.

Howell claims that Ms Stewart administered sedatives to her husband by crushing them up in a tuna sandwich or roll earlier on the evening of his murder. She denied this allegation in a police interview.

Dr Press told the court that there was only mucus in the policeman's stomach when he carried out his examination and that any food had made its way into the intestines.

The trial was adjourned to Monday, when the prosecution and defence will start delivering their closing statements.

Irish Independent

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