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Jury's attention held by voice heaving with remorse

At one stage, Trevor Buchanan's brother Gordon looked skywards. Victor leaned forward. Raymond sat with his chin resting on his right hand.

Hazel Stewart's sisters cried and her daughter Lisa wiped away tears as well.

It has clearly been a horrendously stressful time for the relatives since the trial started, but this must have been excruciatingly difficult.

It was obvious. Even before Ms Stewart's tearful admission of what she had done, late that night and the early hours of the following morning, was broadcast, one woman in the courtroom had already broken down. It was the defendant's 15th and final interview with the even-tempered, assured and patient Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris.

He sat in the witness box, just as he did the day before, leafing through the transcript, as if to confirm that everything which Ms Stewart told him tallied with the broadcast and what appeared on the screen in front of the judge, Mr Justice Anthony Hart.

The jury were able to access the script as well on the screens in front of them. But it was the sound of Ms Stewart, her weeping, her voice heaving with regret and remorse, which held their attention. Nothing else.

"I would like to say sorry to Trevor's family. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a son. I've a son and I love him very much. To David, my husband I love so much. Lisa and Andrew. They are my life and I've lost it.

"The biggest mistake of my life was ever meeting Colin Howell and I have paid the price for the past 17, 18 years. Since that happened I lost so much of my life; I lost a joy, a peace, contentment."

And so she continued. Until Det Sgt Ferris asked her a final question in the interview room at Coleraine police station. It was Saturday, January 31, 2009. They had been there, off and on, for three days and the clock on the wall read 8.26pm. "Hazel," he said: "Is there anything else you want to add to that?"

She replied: "Just, that I'm so sorry."

Junior counsel Neil Connor told the judge that was the end of the taped interviews, and this might be a good time for the court to adjourn. The Buchanan family got to their feet, turned and filed out in an orderly line.

Ms Stewart waited until the last of them had more or less departed. There was no eye contact with her former in-laws and as usual, David Stewart was waiting. He put his arm around her and ushered her out.

Irish Independent