Northern Ireland

Families welcome Stewart double murder verdict

Hazel Stewart
Image caption Hazel Stewart was found guilty of both murders on Wednesday

Relatives of murder victims Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan have spoken of their relief that their killers have finally been brought to justice.

Earlier on Wednesday, Hazel Stewart was convicted of the double murder of her husband and her former lover's wife.

Her ex-lover, former dentist Colin Howell, is serving 21 years after he pleaded guilty to the killings.

Lesley Howell's daughter Lauren Bradford said her mother had been taken from her in a "horrible way".

"We rejoice in the contribution our mum made to our lives in the short time we had together," she added.

Mrs Howell's brother Christopher Clarke said: "As a family we are comforted that those involved in Lesley and Trevor's murders have finally been brought to justice."

Trevor Buchanan's brother Gordon said it was "a day of very mixed emotions for the Buchanan family".

"Our thoughts are first and foremost with Trevor who was brutally taken from us in 1991," he said.

"While there's immense satisfaction that justice for Trevor has finally been achieved, there's no sense of victory - no cause for celebration - as nothing can bring Trevor and Lesley back to us."

Stewart, who is 48, was given a life sentence for the murders. She will return to court next Friday when she will learn the minimum jail term she must serve.

The jury at Coleraine Crown Court took two and a half hours to find the Coleraine woman guilty after a 15-day trial.

After the jury foreman delivered the verdict Lisa, Stewart's daughter wept uncontrollably, and said "It's not fair."

The bodies of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan were discovered in a fume-filled car outside a house in Castlerock in May 1991.

At the time their deaths were seen as a double suicide prompted by the revelation that their spouses were having an affair.

The investigation was reopened when Colin Howell confessed to the murders in January 2009.

'Emotional wreckage'

Detective Superintendent Raymond Murray, who led the new investigation, said anyone who had been in the court would have become aware of the "sheer emotional wreckage this has left behind".

He said he had "never felt such tension and such emotion in a court with the deliverance of the verdict".

The detective added that the fact that Colin Howell had confessed to the murders and testified at the trial "does not expunge his guilt of taking two human lives".

Mr Murray said he understood the anger of the families of the victims about the original investigation.

However, he added: "I think we've got to remember 1991 was a very different place in Northern Ireland - there were 102 terrorist murders alone and CID were a lot more stretched than they are at the minute.

"Things have moved on a great deal in 20 years and we regret they had to wait 20 years."

Howell was sentenced in November 2010 then gave evidence for the prosecution during Hazel Stewart's trial.

During the trial the court heard that Stewart played a part in the planning of the killings.

She also disposed of evidence including the hose pipe used to gas their spouses.

Stewart claimed she was "soft, weak vulnerable, and easy prey" painting her former lover as "obsessed, calculating, controlling and very manipulative".

She said the reason she didn't help her husband was because she was terrified Howell would kill her and her children.

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