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Murder accused wept as police claimed she changed her story

A former Sunday school teacher wept as detectives accused her of changing her story about the murders of her policeman husband and her lover's wife, her trial heard yesterday.

Hazel Stewart sobbed as a senior officer claimed she was backtracking and adding things to her account in a bid to mask her alleged involvement in the May 1991 killings of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell.

Her ex-lover -- dentist Colin Howell -- has already admitted poisoning their spouses with carbon monoxide pumped from his car while they slept in their respective homes near Northern Ireland's north coast, then staging a scene to make it look like a bizarre suicide pact.

Howell confessed to elders in his church 18 years later and Ms Stewart was arrested hours later at her home at Ballystrone Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, Co Derry, in January 2009.

On the 10th day of her trial at Coleraine Crown Court, police tapes of the subsequent interviews with Ms Stewart two years ago were played to the jury. During the 11th of 15 tapes, Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris put it to Stewart that she was lying to police.

In her first interview two days earlier, she had appeared to indicate she felt something was going to happen to her husband when Howell phoned in the middle of the night. But she went on to deny that in later recordings, claiming she thought the dentist was just calling round to see her.

"Why would you say that in one interview and then basically turn it round full circle," Mr Ferris challenged.

Ms Stewart said she had not remembered what she said in the first interview.

The detective replied: "It's difficult to remember when you're telling untruths, Hazel." He accused her of trying to twist the truth.

Ms Stewart could then be heard crying on the tapes: "I'm not here to twist it," she insisted.


Mr Ferris then put it to Ms Stewart that when Howell called her it was to confirm that their joint plan to murder had begun and he had already killed his wife.

She again denied the claim: "No," she said repeatedly.

The 47-year-old mother of two denies being part of a joint enterprise to murder Mrs Howell (31) and Mr Buchanan (32).

Her former lover Howell is serving 21 years after pleading guilty to the murders last year.

With her second husband David Stewart and her two children Andrew and Lisa sitting yards away in the public gallery, Ms Stewart, wearing a blue and white shirt and her trademark plum coat, sat in the dock with reading glasses on. She stared at transcripts of her interviews as they were played to a packed, yet hushed, courtroom.

On the other side of the dock two of Howell's children, Lauren and Daniel, sat close to relatives of Mr Buchanan.

In the police interviews, the detective asked Ms Stewart why she had remained with Howell for five years after he killed her husband if she was against the plan and why she had done nothing to stop it or report it.

"You had ample opportunity to hit this on the head certainly prior to the murders and certainly that night and the next day," he said.

Ms Stewart admitted Howell talked about the plan to her before the killings, but she denied he went into any detail.

"(He was) testing the waters with me, maybe," she suggested.

Ms Stewart said if she had gone to police then it would have been her word against his.

The case continues.

Irish Independent