Northern Ireland

Murder accused Stewart 'wished she was dead' jury told

Hazel Stewart denies the murders of her husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell in 1991
Image caption Hazel Stewart denies the murders of her husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell in 1991

Hazel Stewart told police she wished she was dead when they questioned her about the murders of her husband and her ex-lover's wife, a court has heard.

"I was so scared and I have lived every day of my life since that happened wanting to die," she said.

"I'd rather be dead than go through this for the sake of my children," she said.

Mrs Stewart , 47, denies murdering Trevor Buchanan, 32, and Mrs Lesley Howell, 31, in May 1991.

At one stage in her trial at Coleraine Court on Monday, her daughter Lisa, a nurse sitting in the public gallery beside her brother Andrew, daubed her eyes with a handkerchief while a jury of nine men and three women listened to the first of 15 taped interviews which Stewart gave to investigating officers.

The interview was given in 2009 after she was arrested for the murders of her husband and her former lover, Colin Howell's wife, who were thought to have died in suicide pact on the north coast of Northern Ireland 18 years earlier.

Detectives reopened the inquiry after dentist Colin Howell, 51, stunned his church elders by confessing to murdering the two and later when he was questioned by police claimed that Hazel Stewart was part of the plan which they covered up and then kept secret since the time of the deaths in May 1991.

Howell, a father of 10, from Glebe Road, Castlerock, is serving a 21-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to the two murders at Belfast Crown Court last November.

Last week, he spent four days in the witness box testifying against his former lover. Howell gassed both his victims and then drove the two bodies to the neighbouring seaside town of Castlerock, County Derry, where he stage managed the apparent suicide.

In tapes played in court, Mrs Stewart said she was "shocked" when Howell suggested killing their partners and did not want to discuss it.

"I was so shocked I was not going to discuss it. I could not think like that," she said.

She said she was scared on the night of the murders. She went to another bedroom when Howell came to her house.

She heard a struggle but put her hands over her ears, she said. Then she went out and saw her husband on the floor but did not want to ask questions.

Mrs Stewart said Howell was originally charming when she first knew him, but was also "calculating" and she was scared of him.

She said she lied to protect her children.

Talking about the day of the murders, she said: "The joy went out of my life that day."

The trial continues.