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Stewart 'guilty of perjury but not murder' says lawyer

Hazel Stewart was guilty of withholding information, perjury and perverting the course of justice - but she is not guilty of murder, her defence lawyer Paul Ramsey QC said.

It was Colin Howell who had devised and planned the two murders and had used her for his own selfish end, he told the jury.

Mr Ramsey said his client did not have to give evidence. The jury may draw an adverse conclusion against her over her decision, but that was her inalienable right.

Close examination of the Crown case, as it now stood, revealed such inconsistencies and uncertainties and he said the fact that she had not given evidence should not be held against her.

He claimed: "The evidence against her has become so confused, particularly by Howell's evidence, that it is not clear what the prosecution case is. It would be unfair and improper to arrive at such a conclusion. It would not be right to draw an adverse conclusion."

Mr Ramsey said Howell was a prosecution witness and had no choice but to give evidence. Mr Ramsey had been champing at the bit. He had virtually vaulted into the witness box, but he had given evidence on his own agenda. He was in a completely different category to the accused.

During almost eight hours of interviews to the police, he said his client had answered every single question. She had been disarmingly frank and forthcoming and had confessed her role.

Police had not confined themselves to the night of the murder, he said. They had asked her about her relationship with Howell before and after the murders.

Mr Ramsey said to the jury: "How would your task be helped by observing a contest between a housewife and an eminent and able senior counsel like Mr Murphy? It would be like sending a pub team to play a Premier League side like Manchester United or Chelsea - at their home ground. No contest."

Stewart, he said, was not guilty of murder. She had confessed a role of which she was deeply ashamed. She was not innocent, but she is not guilty of murder.

He added: "We say she is guilty of assisting offenders; guilty of withholding information; in the days which followed. In her statements to the police, we say she is guilty of perverting the course of justice and probably perjury when she gave evidence at the inquest. As perjury cases go it is probably one of the clearest you will ever come across.

"But she hasn't been charged with that. She hasn't been charged with any of those matters. The prosecution in this case have gone for broke.

"They have charged her with both murders; in a joint enterprise with Howell. We say the evidence of her role was wholly subservient to Colin Howell.

"He completely controlled her. He devised. He planned. He carried out these murders and he did so for his own selfish ends. He employed and used her so that he could carry out his deadly work as he did."

PA Media