Northern Ireland

Murderer Stewart could have saved husband

Hazel Stewart
Image caption Hazel Stewart was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in prison

Hazel Stewart could have saved her husband's life if she had wanted to, trial judge Mr Justice Hart has said.

Stewart, 48, was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in jail for the murders of her first husband, Trevor Buchanan and her former lover's wife, Lesley Howell.

She was convicted earlier this month at Belfast Crown Court and was told on Wednesday how long she would serve.

Former lover Colin Howell admitted the murders last year and is serving a life sentence.

The bodies of Mr Buchanan and Mrs Howell were discovered in a fume-filled car in Castlerock in May 1991.

At the time it was thought to have been a double suicide - the truth only emerged when Howell confessed to their murder in January 2009.

Stewart's trial heard that she played a part in the planning of the killings.

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

The judge, Mr Justice Hart, said on Wednesday that by its verdict the jury had accepted that Stewart and Howell "were in it together".

He referred to Stewart's admissions to the police about the part she played in the murders.

Image caption Hazel Stewart, pictured being transported in a prison van, was sentenced in Belfast

The judge said both victims were in an exceptionally vulnerable position as they lay asleep when they were murdered.

He said Stewart's culpability was "exceptionally high" because she knew in advance what Howell was going to do, and did "nothing whatever" to prevent the killings.

"Whilst she knew Howell was murdering her husband in another room she waited and did nothing to save his life," he added.

"Had she had a spark of compassion for her husband even at that late stage she would have tried to prevent his murder.

""She could have told someone else, she could have told the police, and even after Lesley Howell had been murdered, she could have prevented Howell from entering her house and killing her husband by any one of a number of actions, such as not opening the garage door to him, locking the door against him, waking her husband, ringing the police or alerting her neighbour to mention but a few.

The judge said Stewart was infatuated with Howell whom he described as "a charismatic, manipulative, hypocritical man with a very considerable sexual appetite".

"She played a full part in concealing what had happened by lying to the police in her inquest statement and putting forward the story concocted by Howell," Mr Justice Hart said.

"She also benefited financially from her husband's death but the prosecution accepted that this was not to the same extent as Howell did."

Turning to the Victim Impact Statement from the Buchanan family, Mr Justice Hart recalled that Trevor Buchanan's parents had both died thinking their son had taken his own life.

"It is particularly poignant to read the descriptions of the effect of the death of their son on Trevor Buchanan's elderly parents, whose remaining years were blighted by the severe effect of their son's death upon them," he said.

"It is apparent from what each has described in their statements that many lives have been gravely affected for many years by these murders."

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