I’LL STAND BY HAZEL

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DAVID Stewart says he is standing by his wife, the convicted double murderer Hazel Stewart, and will not leave her.

The retired police chief superintendent has revealed that the mother of two, currently serving 18 years in Hydebank Prison in Belfast for the murders of her first husband Trevor and Lesley Howell, the wife of her former lover, Colin Howell, has repeatedly asked him to divorce her.

But in The Perfect Murder, a First Cut film to be shown on Channel 4 this Friday evening, Stewart, once a staff officer to ex RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, says: “When she [Hazel] was arrested and certainly when she was convicted she said ‘just divorce me and get on with your life’.

“But it’s not an option, it’s not going to happen.”

Judy Kelly’s half-hour film, which brings the explosive Howell-Stewart double murder case to a UK audience for the first time, also reveals:

* Weekly Baptist prayer sessions held in the Stewarts’ Ballystrone Road home where prayers are offered for Hazel;

* David Stewart’s belief that a media witch hunt, obsessed with his wife’s looks, has been conducted against Hazel, labelling her as a “witch and a b*tch”;

* A rift has developed between the Buchanan and Hazel’s family with her children Andrew and Lisa determined to stand by their mother;

* David Stewart’s deep feelings of loneliness despite receiving up to five telephone calls from Hazel each day;

* The real reason why Hazel never took the stand at her sensational trial;

* Claims that celebrated cosmetic dentist Howell exerted a malevolent psychological grip over Hazel.

The Doubleband Films production depicts David Stewart as a disconsolate figure sustained only by his deep Baptist faith, a man whose wife and future were taken away from him when the former nursery assistant was found guilty of the 1991 Castlerock murders in March this year.

He admits that the story has all the ingredients which excite the public imagination but adds that it is “a case of real human tragedy, no matter what you believe Hazel did or did not do...there are people dead.”

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The half hour programme describes Stewart’s shock at Hazel’s arrest for the murders at their luxury Macosquin home in January 2009 and the immense strain her conviction has had on both he and her children. P5

However the former senior cop cannot accept the jury’s guilty verdict saying that Hazel acted under the evil and controlling influence of father of ten, Colin Howell, 51, by agreeing to dispose of the pipe that he used to kill her policeman husband and laying out clothes for his dead body at their Charnwood Park home.

“Those are very serious offences,” reflects Stewart, “but I have to say that they were done under Howell’s control in a desperate situation in which she didn’t know what to do.

“She should have hit Colin Howell, she should have screamed, but she was terrified for her children.”

Stewart reveals that he receives between three and five calls from Hazel each day, the first after eight each morning, but says that it is personally “extremely difficult” for him that she is languishing in prison.

“I suppose in one sense it’s a highlight of the day, being able to get that call and be able to know that she is okay and hear how she is getting on and what she’s doing.

“Sometimes you think about some things you would like to talk about, I can’t pick up the phone and ring her. I cope.”

At one point Stewart is filmed receiving a call on his car speaker phone after his weekly one hour visit to Hazel in prison with both ending the short conversation by saying they loved each other.

The film also underlines the unswerving loyalty of Hazel Stewart’s children to her, in fact, daughter Lisa expresses the wish that the murder revelations had never surfaced at all.

“I probably wish that this had never came out. I don’t believe that it has helped one person in the whole family circle or any of the victims.”

But qualifying her comments that the Buchanan family had obtained some sort of closure from the guilty verdicts and the new findings of the recent inquest, she adds, “For my life and Andrew’s life, it just feels that we lost our dad and now mum has been taken away from us wrongfully and we struggle to cope with that every day.

“Our loyalty lies with our mum and that’s where it will stay.”

A smiling, laughing Hazel Stewart is shown throughout the film but her husband condemns the media portrayal of his wife whom he describes as “a very warm and pleasant girl” whom he met at a spin class in a local gym.

“The emphasis has been on her as a witch, b*tch, callous...while Colin Howell is on a journey of truth, reconciliation and remorse. It’s not laughable because it’s too serious,” he says.

Stewart also calls into question the police’s 12th interview with Hazel when she made certain admissions which could yet form the basis of an appeal against her sentence.

He claims that her answers were allegedly obtained while she was in a distressed state and had not eaten or slept.

Despite the immense personal burden of the sensational revelations and trial, Stewart reads from the Bible each morning and hosts a prayer meeting in his home with members of his Baptist church.

Members are filmed praying for Hazel, asking that “God’s armour protects her so that she can face each day what comes at her”. Another prayer asks that God gives her hope and restores her joy.

Stewart also reveals the real reason why Hazel did not give evidence at her trial - she would have faced intense cross-examination which may have undermined her defence.

He remarks: “The first question would have been, ‘What was it like having sex with Colin Howell after he murdered your husband?’

“I think that was bound to be a sort of question to shock a jury, that no answer you gave is going to be acceptable to anybody.”

First Cut: The Perfect Murder, will be shown on Channel 4 this Friday at 7.30pm.