Tuesday 20 March 2018

Policeman's wife dressed to kill but always 'a little on edge'

Deric Henderson

Hazel Stewart was always dressed to kill. She was immaculately turned out and only bought the best at some of the North's top, and most expensive, fashion stores.

She was the daughter of a dairy farmer and the sixth eldest in a family of 10 who lived at Gillygooley outside Omagh. They all attended Omagh Baptist Church, where her father was once an elder. He died just before she was arrested.

She was close to her mother and much preferred busying herself in the house rather than working on the land.

Hazel played the piano and attended Omagh High School but she was not academically minded. She was working in a shop when she met Trevor Buchanan. They married in July 1981 and had two children.

Trevor served as an RUC officer in Beragh and Castlederg, close to the Tyrone-Donegal border. He lived in Omagh and was then transferred to Coleraine in 1981, a town which was relatively free of day-to-day terrorist violence.

They were among many young couples taking their seats in Coleraine Baptist Church on a Sunday morning back then -- including the confident Colin Howell, a dentist, and his wife Lesley.

It was worship within a close knit and oppressive hierarchical community with little privacy.

Hazel, who worked as an assistant at a children's playschool, went on to take the Sunday school but stepped back once her affair with Howell became known. The first time they had sex she could hardly bring herself to look at him.

Howell's charm disarmed her, first in the swimming pool in Ballymoney when they took the children swimming, and later at her home when he called to teach her new guitar chords.

Howell had other thoughts in mind, of course.

She said later: "It just happened. I felt I'd wrecked my marriage. It happened so quick. It didn't feel good."

She had a secret abortion at a clinic in London and later, when the relationship resumed after they promised their partners and the counselling Pastor John Hansford the affair was over, the church found itself at the centre of a scandal.

Then there were the deaths and a subsequent police investigation which, as it later turned out, was hopelessly inept and wide of the mark. The church, at the time, was deeply embarrassed and later tensions -- some related to the deaths -- developed between the elders and their minister.

After she left Howell, Hazel found a new man in her life, the quiet and unassuming Trevor McAuley, who worked as a compositor in a local newspaper.

They were together, off and on for six years, and he was devastated when she left him for a man she met in the gym, David Stewart, a retired police chief superintendent, once a staff officer to the former Northern Ireland chief constable Sir Hugh Annesley.

One man who was on the periphery of Hazel and David's circle of friends claimed that no matter how well she dressed and looked, she always had the face of a haunted woman.


He said: "She was always a little on edge and never seemed to be totally relaxed. It was as if there was something worrying her, concerning her. I think she was always waiting for the knock on the door."

Mr Hansford, who now ministers to a congregation of ex-pats in Spain, claimed Hazel was not as innocent as she appeared.

He said in January last year: "I think Hazel schemed. Yes, I picked that up in her marriage. Trevor lacked sparkle and was not very exciting. She was looking for more. We discussed her sex life ... obviously she felt there was an inadequacy there. He lacked ambition.

"Hazel would have come across to me as being a victim of circumstances, particularly of Colin's dominant personality.

"Looking back now I wonder whether that was true. She was possibly more involved in it than it was initially claimed. Colin was the attractive, charming, outgoing, successful wealthy character.

"Trevor was Mr Ordinary, but a very nice Mr Ordinary. Hazel was Mrs Ordinary."

Irish Independent

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