DOUBLE murder accused Hazel Stewart showed the first sign of emotion on day 11 of her trial, as she broke down in tears in the dock as he listened to a police recording of her admitting and saying sorry for plotting the murders of her husband, Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell back in 1991.
The mother of two held her head in her hands and cried as her emotional confession in a 15th interview with detectives was played to a packed Coleraine Crown Court on Wednesday.
After a series of denials over the course of two days of intensive interrogation after her arrest in 2009, the former Sunday School teacher finally acknowledged her involvement in the murderous plan conceived by her then lover Colin Howell to poison her husband former RUC officer Trevor Buchanan and his wife Lesley, and make it look like suicide.
Stewart’s children Lisa, who also wept, and Andrew and second husband David, sat in the public gallery, feet away from her in the dock, as the dramatic conclusion of her final interview was played to the jury.
Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris, who described the crimes in May 1991 as “nearly the perfect murder” during the interview in Coleraine police station, put it to her: “Colin Howell could not have done this on his own and you could not have done it on your own Hazel, this had to be a joint enterprise between the two of you, the two of you had to work together to make this plan come to fruition, do you accept that?
She replied: “Yes”
The officer added: “Sorry, just for the benefit of the tape.”
Stewart repeated her answer again, twice: “Yes, yes.”
Stewart, 47, made the statement to police just days after Howell had confessed the crimes to the elders of the church. She now denies being part of a joint enterprise to murder her husband and Mrs Howell.
The jury heard Stewart cry as she apologised to her family and Colin’s children for her actions and described her former lover’s wife, Lesley Howell as a ‘lovely girl’
In the recording, when asked by Detective Geoff Ferris if there is anything she wishes to add, Stewart begins to cry and says: “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 (Andrew) and I love him very much.
“To David, my husband, I love so much, Lisa and Andrew they’re my life and I have lost it, 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 like a joy, a peace, contentment. It was like having a black hole every day I got up. Every night I went to bed it was there. I thought about it 24-7. It never ever left me.”
She told the detective she had been plagued with guilt.
“Life has been horrific for me. I never got over it,” she said.
“The thought of losing my children, losing David, is the hardest thing but I took it, was part of them. Yeah I destroyed their lives, Lisa and Andrew’s lives, Colin’s children they didn’t deserve this or Lesley, Lesley was a lovely girl.
“Trevor was very good too, there was nothing wrong.
“He (Howell) is a very cold calculating person, he had his own motives for this, I had no motive, I had no motive, for he wanted me more than I wanted him.
“I was soft, easy target I know I was. But I’ll live with this to the day I die and even it’s out in the open I have destroyed and hurt more lives and people will be so shocked, my own family, my mother especially Lisa, Andrew and David, they’re my life.”
In the 25-minute interview that commenced shortly after 8pm on Saturday, January 31, 2009 - two days after her arrest - she said she had destroyed the life of her second husband David.
“I’ve wrecked his life, my children, I don’t know I can only hope and pray that the church, the church will stay close to my children and to David and that they will look after them cause I can’t be there for them and they need me, they need me.
“I can’t, I can’t have them now because of this, because of it,” she said.
DS Ferris acknowledged her statement but questioned why her emotions had not stopped the murders back in 1991. He said her love for Howell was so strong that she had allowed it to take place.
“I don’t know if it was love at times or fear with him,” she replied.
He said she had ample opportunities to stop the plan.
“I could have stopped it, I could have stopped it,” she said.
The detective added: “You were part of a plan Hazel, which was to murder two people. The plan was carried out and it was near the perfect murder. You got close, very close but it doesn’t always work out like that and it has came to a head this week.”
Earlier in the interview the officer described the killings as “calculated”:
“It was vicious in relation to what yous did, both of you. You showed no regard for your partners, you showed no regard for their families and you certainly showed no regard for your own children. And you made that decision that you could live with your two children who were only nine and 10 years of age and you agreed to a plan that resulted in the father of your two children being murdered in the very house where they lay sleeping.
“Can it get any more cold, colder than that Hazel?”
She replied: “No, no.”
Under cross-examination, Stewart’s defence lawyer Peter Sefton questioned the strategy Det Sgt Ferris employed when interviewing his client and suggested he had taken what Howell claimed in his confession as absolute truth.
The detective denied that was his approach.
“It was important for me to put to Hazel Stewart what Colin Howell was saying and invite her to agree or disagree,” he said.
The officer said at the time of the interview he had no reason to doubt Howell’s version of events, but when pressed on whether he thought the dentist was telling the truth, he replied: “Only Colin Howell can say that.”
Mr Sefton also pointed out that during the latter interviews the detective accused Stewart of mentioning two issues for the first time.
The lawyer said the transcripts showed that she had talked about the matters - her claim she told Howell “No” when he arrived at the house, and that he told her to go and wait in a spare room - in earlier interviews. The officer responded: “If there’s a slight error in what is being said, it was not deliberate.”