Tears of the innocents

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IN MAY 18, 1991, two children slept soundly in their Charnwood Park home in Coleraine.

Never in their innocent dreams would they have believed that just feet away their mother and her lover were murdering their beloved dad.

Almost 20 years later, those two children faced their worst nightmare as they sat in Court No2 in Coleraine Crown Court.

Andrew and Lisa Buchanan watched helpless as their mother, Hazel Stewart, was taken away to begin life imprisonment for the double murder of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell.

They had supported their mother from the first day of her trial at the Mountsandel Road.

Walking beside their mum through the battery of cameras each day - Lisa, pretty but determined looking. Andrew, strikingly similar looking to his late father.

On Wednesday, as word spread that the jury were ready to deliver their verdict, the Buchanan children returned to the courtroom.

Across the courtroom from them sat Lauren Howell, now Bradford.

Another innocent child dragged into the mire of lies, deceit and murder.

As a little girl of four, she slept on the night of the murders, tired out from her brother Daniel’s second birthday celebrations.

Colin Howell has callously admitted in court that he deliberately kept Lauren and her brothers Matthew, Daniel and Jonny up late so that they would be sound asleep while he murdered their mother.

The innocents slept soundly in their room - the room their father had barricaded them into with a hockey stick.

On Wednesday, as Hazel Stewart stood in the dock ready to hear her fate, Lisa sat beside her brother and stepfather, sobbing.

Stewart looked towards her daughter with a barely perceptible smile and nodded her head twice towards her daughter as if to say: “It’s OK, stay calm, don’t be upset.”

The jury returned and the foreman was asked had they reached a unanimous decision in the case of Hazel Roberta Stewart?

“Yes”

He was asked about the first count of murder - that of Lesley Elizabeth Anne Howell.

“Guilty.”

There was gasps around the court.

The foreman was asked about the second count of murder - that of Trevor Andrew Buchanan.

“Guilty.”

Hazel Stewart started to breathe heavily. Her faced crumpled for a second only before she composed herself, seeming to concentrate on her breathing.

“No, no that’s not fair,” shouted her daughter Lisa before collapsing into sobs of grief.

Andrew held his head in his hands and let out a howl of despair.

David Stewart dissolved into tears. Defence solicitor Stephen Hastings went to the public gallery to comfort Andrew and Lisa.

Across the courtroom, there were tears also from the Buchanan and Howell family members.

As Mr Justice Hart told Hazel Stewart that she was to serve life imprisonment, he could barely be heard over the sound of sobs of grief.

Quietly and determinedly, Mr Justice Hart said: “Take her away.”

At this, Lisa rose from her seat, almost as if to follow her mother.

As everyone left the courtroom, a sister-in-law of the late Trevor Buchanan wept: “Those wains, those wains. Poor Andrew and Lisa.”

Outside the court, with traffic coming to a standstill on the Mountsandel and onlookers, some with prams, other smoking, lining the avenues around the court, the children at the centre of these brutal, cold murders prepared to leave for the final time.

Lauren Howell, flanked by her husband and uncle, Dr Chris Clarke, spoke to the media of the loving nature of her late mother. She said that her thoughts were with the Buchanan family.

Later, Andrew and Lisa, supported by their stepfather, a now distressed looking David Stewart, left the court.

A police escort helped them to pick their way through the maze of cameras facing them.

Seasoned journalists said time and time again that they had never encountered a story like it.

By now the camera crews and satellite vans have left Coleraine, bound for the next story.

Still remaining are the children of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan - the innocents asleep on that horrific night.