Friday 19 January 2018

It's not fair, it's not fair, killer's daughter cries

Deric Henderson

Hazel Stewart struggled so hard with her breathing that one of the police officers sitting just to the right of the dock feared she was going to hyper-ventilate.

Lisa, her daughter, sobbed loudly, reached out as if to embrace her, and then cried out: "Oh no, oh no. It's not fair. No, it's not fair. It's not fair."

Andrew, her son, who held his head in his hands as if he was praying for a miracle, wailed in anguish and his stepfather David Stewart, Stewart's loyal and attentive husband, collapsed in tears. He seemed to have aged 10 years since the trial started.

Winnie, Carmen, Pauline and Jackie just stared at their sister behind the glass panel, and wept as well. It was distressing to witness such raw emotion, involving a family so utterly convinced of a woman's innocence.

Stewart sat for a moment between two women wardens as if she was not quite sure what to do next.

During the previous 14 days of this dramatic trial she was free to leave the dock as part of her bail conditions. But not this time.

Lisa appeared to mouth: "Mummy, I love you. Mummy I love you."

Hazel wept silently as well, rubbing her eyes with a handkerchief which she had clutched while Mr Justice Anthony Hart pulled up his chair to confirm the jury had reached a verdict.

The deliberations lasted just two hours and 29 minutes. Clearly they did not need much convincing about Stewart's guilt.

Just before noon they had asked for transcripts of her interviews with the investigating officers who questioned her, and which effectively damned her.


This was when she confessed that she knew her husband Trevor was to be murdered; that she cut up and burned the garden hose which Colin Howell used to gas him; how she washed the bedclothes and then got rid of the fumes which lingered after her lover had driven off with the bodies of Trevor and his wife Lesley in the boot.

Stewart stood again, still breathing deeply. Gaunt and forlorn.

There was a look of resignation, a face which maybe confirmed that this was what she had feared all along. She glanced over again at her husband and the two children and at one stage nodded as if to reassure them she would be all right and not to worry. But Lisa and Andrew just kept crying. They were inconsolable, just like David Stewart and their aunts in the row behind.

The grief on the opposite side of the court where Trevor Buchanan's family sat was just as heartfelt. There was no triumphalism or sense of victory. Just a quiet feeling of relief that it was finally over.

After the judge confirmed that she must serve a mandatory life sentence, Stewart turned to her left, her head falling to the one side. The two wardens stood to the one side, and she sided through the door and down towards a holding cell.

The judged agreed to a request by her lawyer that she could see her husband and two children before being driven off to prison.

And then it was out into the bright sunshine. First the Buchanans, and their extended family, and not far behind Trevor's great friend John Wray and his wife Sheila.

Trevor's brother Gordon, in a dark grey suit, steadied himself. "The Buchanan family will strive to get through this -- we owe that much to Trevor. It is his memory and our love for him that will sustain us and stay with us forever," he said.

A few minutes later it was the turn of Chris Clarke, Lesley Howell's only brother, to speak. But the most moving of all came when Lauren Bradford, Lesley's only daughter, had the last word.

Just four years of age when her mum died, and speaking on behalf of her two brothers, Dan and Jonny, Lauren said: "We rejoice in the contribution our mum made to our lives in the short time we had together. We know her to have been a loving and devoted mother."

Irish Independent

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