Thoughts on the saga of Hazel Stewart

The saga of the murders of Trevor Buchannan and Lesley Howell has all the ingredients of a horrible human interest story or a perfect opportunity for voyeurism depending on one’s views. It has had a perfect; practically Shakespearian villain who finally seized with remorse has told all for the benefit of his soul and for all of our fascinated, sickened, voyeuristic enjoyment. Along with that there is Lady Macbeth herself: the calculating cold she devil who murdered her husband and a friend for lust, money and ambition.

Many may disagree with me about the following (many friends and acquaintances in real life already have) but I have always been somewhat dubious about this characterisation especially of Mrs. Stewart. My wife has suggested that I always support women even when only a fool would and that I am a Protestant St. Jude (the patron saint of lost causes). However, the characterisation of Mrs. Stewart, the conduct of her prosecution and the revelling in her downfall which has been a feature particularly of the Belfast Telegraph have seemed so one dimensional as to be difficult to accept.

There is no point in rehashing the evidence or the story of the case: that was the job of the court. There are, however, questions which can legitimately be asked surrounding the conduct of this business and the media circus accompanying it.

It is noteworthy that Mrs. Stewart appears not to have been given the opportunity to plead guilty to the crimes she has most definitely committed and would, it seems, certainly have pleaded guilty to. Had she been charged with any, or all of the list of offences her husband mentioned on BBC’s Spotlight last night she would have had absolutely no defence. Furthermore it is frequently the case that criminals who could be charged with murder are only charged with lesser offences, often as part of a deal with the prosecution: people may criticise that but it is the bread and butter of our and many other legal systems.

On this occasion there seems to have been no attempt at following such a course of action which is in marked contrast to the norm. Had Mrs. Stewart been charged with and pleaded guilty to the lesser offences she would have gone to gaol for a prolonged period but there would have been no trial. To a cynic it might look as though the PPS wanted to put on a show and charging Mrs. Stewart with murder was the only way to get that show. Had Stewart pleaded guilty the trial would have lasted almost no time (like Colin Howell’s) and the scandalised population of Northern Ireland would not have had their circus – how far has the public’s appetite for revenge advanced from the stocks and public executions?

Whatever about the court room drama, the media handling of the case was a localised version of the sensationalism surrounding high profile trials of American media celebrities. We had psychologists and psychiatrists drafted in to pontificate on both Mr. Howell and Mrs. Stewart; endless comments on Mrs. Stewart’s wardrobe choices for the trial; her relative’s behaviour; her weekly church attendances even got a mention complete with shots of the front of Coleraine Baptist Church. Through it all stood and walked Hazel Stewart in her now infamous “plum coat”; we have never heard from her but that did not stop endless imagined reconstructions of the murders, police interviews etc.

When she was finally found guilty, the media, especially the Belfast Telegraph went into overdrive. The Telegraph may well have become progressively more populist recently; it may have gone on endlessly and voyeuristically about Mrs. Michaela McAreavey’s murder but here, with Hazel Stewart, the Belfast Telegraph’s move downmarket plumbed new depths. The paper told us with undisguised glee about the game prisoners play of trying to be the first to make a new inmate cry. They told of how difficult it would be for Stewart to adjust to life in gaol; they speculated on her mental health; suggested that prison officers were worried she might kill herself and even told us that she had allegedly said she had made “her peace with God.” One could almost read the Telegraph saying: “Go on Hazel do it: kill yourself.” Then when she did not (yet anyhow thankfully) there have been complaints about the large legal aid bill run up in Mrs. Stewart’s defence and that she can attend the gym and have her hair done in gaol.

There is not a subtext of schadenfreude: it has been open and overt. The pleasure that a wealthy, attractive woman; who had become the kept woman of a modestly wealthy man has now fallen was overt and actually pretty obscene.

The fact that Mrs. Stewart is an evangelical Christian simply added spice to the fun: with that and comments about her sex life and previous relationships the papers had a perfect target. The fact that through it all Stewart and her relatives said nothing resulted in the media (especially the Telegraph) filling the vacuum. It is unclear whether the quiet dignified yet realistic support of Hazel Stewart’s family on Spotlight last night will change public or media perceptions. Her relatively newly married husband’s unwavering yet not uncritical support of his wife is interesting. Although it is the laudable response of a spouse, it is, whatever Mr. Stewart may say, not the one which Christians or others always adopt when faced with circumstances much less severe than these: circumstances of which he is completely blameless. Mr. Stewart, a man who married late is now left, not a widower but something almost worse and he will be like that for up to 18 years.

Coming back to the legal aspects, 18 years seems an awfully long time as punishment for a double murder in which the criminal did not actually physically take part in the act and one which it seems difficult to believe that she was the main instigator of. The Northern Ireland judiciary are often accused of handing down excessively lenient sentences for serious crimes. On this occasion, however, there is no way that can be said and it looks a little as if the judge was playing more than a little to the media and public gallery.

It is also worth remembering that in 1991, 96 people died in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Anyone found guilty of murder in those circumstances will be out within two years. Even if Hazel Stewart is guilty of murder her crimes do not seem 9 times more serious than a terrorist’s.

Hazel Stewart is very clearly guilty of a series of serious crimes. However, at the end of this she does seem something of a victim: a victim of Colin Howell and also possibly a victim of, if not a miscarriage of justice, something very close to it. No: Not an innocent victim but a victim none the less.

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  • oracle

    You must have a wee eye for her Turgon

  • Given the risk adverse nature of the PPS it can only be believerd she was charged as she was because it was believed that the evidence wsas strong enough to achieve a successful prosecution. Had there been a significant risk then she may well have been offered a lesser charge on which to plead, and achieve a lesser sentence.

    As for the press, read none of it.

  • Eglise en bois

    I am interested in the view that something actually went wrong here. A jury of 12 of Ms Stewart’s peer’s heard the evidence, evidence she chose not to refute, and decided she was guilty.

    Her family for obvious reasons don’t want to accept the outcome but the process has been done in line with our justice system. Whether she is guilty of lesser offences etc, to me, is immaterial, she was charged, tried and convicted of murder and the outcome is as decided by the jury.

    One part that did concern me in last night’s spotlight was the suggestion that somehow it would have been better had the truth not come out or that the motivations of why the truth came out in some way should be challenged or be used as a mitigating circumstance.

    Even the very strong “Howell manipulated her” sounds very like, “I was only following orders”

    Ultimately I believe in justice, the process of law, the right to appeal etc. Trial and retrial by media is not justice, it’s simply a circus and boy what a circus it has been and continues to be.

  • Mac

    “and also possibly a victim of, if not a miscarriage of justice, something very close to it. No: Not an innocent victim but a victim none the less.”

    Will you be floating this as the official stance of the TUV on what constitutes a victim? 😉

  • dwatch

    Having watched a most unusal BBC spotlight programme last night Mrs Stewart’s 2nd husband David told her to tell the truth. She did so and received a mandatory 18 year life sentence. Surely as a former RUC high ranking officer her husband should have accepted the final decision of the jury. Having listened to all the evidence surely all twelve of these jurors could not be wrong, and this one ex policeman who is still emotionally involved with the wrongdoer right?

    Many crimes of murder have been committed throughout history when the ” criminal did not actually physically take part in the act”

  • cynic49

    Always very easy to forget that two innocent people had their life cut short and now lie in their graves. The families that suffered and endured that loss did not seek this situation that Mrs Stewart and Mr Howell created. Neither of these two can be described as any form of victim. Just focus on the two graves in North Antrim that were filled by their evil actions. The law has taken its course and our pity should not be misplaced.

    Less we forget.

  • Old Mortality

    The media preoccupation is understandable since Hazel Stewart is by local standards an exceptionally attractive woman. I admit to being rather fascinated by her quality of seeming to belong elsewhere.
    Had she been overweight, covered in several layers of luminous emulsion, I doubt whether the coverage would have been so extensive.
    More seriously, the trial did reveal a thoroughly perverted morality caused by the religious attachments of the participants. That murder was preferable to divorce and abortion to a pregnancy outside wedlock is utterly shocking to rational people.

  • cheese

    ‘To a cynic it might look as though the PPS wanted to put on a show and charging Mrs. Stewart with murder was the only way to get that show.’

    The PPS would only lessen the charges from murder if they did not actually have enough evidence. They had plenty of evidence to convict Mrs Stewart of murder, most notibily a confession. There seems to be some confusion regarding what actually constitutes murder for someone involved in a murder plot but not the person who, in this case, puts the hose piping poisonous gas into the victim’s mouth. There might be some legal types on here who could clarify this. My understanding is that because Mrs Stewart confessed to knowing about the plan before hand, taking part during and covering up after she is guilty of murder. Had she not moved the car out of the garage and let Howell in the plan would not have succeeded.

    ‘However, at the end of this she does seem something of a victim: a victim of Colin Howell and also possibly a victim of, if not a miscarriage of justice, something very close to it.’

    As I have stated she confessed to her part in the murder plan and according to the law in this land she is guilty of murder. How have you formed the opinion that she might possibily be a victim of something very close to a miscarriage of justice??

    The media circus, including spotlight, has been disgraceful. Mrs Stewart is victim of this media circus. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that a person such as Colin Howell could conceivably control another persons actions to far as to convince them to take part in a murder plot against their spouse. Is there? The defense had no such evidence. Where does the notion come that one person can control another persons’ mind?

    Mrs Stewart’s daughter claimed on spotlight that a person would not know what they would do if a person came to their house to murder their spouse with a hose. I know what I would do. Mrs Stewart had the opportunity to alert the police or Trevor Buchanan at any stage and did not. She also continued the affair with Howell for a number of years post murder. She has lied for 20 years and justice has caught up with her. She lied to the world and she and Howell systematically tarnished the character and memories of two entirely innocent people.

  • a victim of, if not a miscarriage of justice, something very close to it. No: Not an innocent victim but a victim none the less.“… Turgon

    What a very odd and even quite crazy opinion, given all that is known and has been reported, Turgon. Well said, Sir, and you have every right to express it.

  • The Word

    The trial was an affront to our legal system.

    It certainly is a phoney system that has a trial based on the evidence of a man who’s just had a schizophrenic episode and is telling all to the extent that the trial culminates after perhaps millions in costs in the compelling evidence of Hazell Stewart’s own tape recorded admissions of guilt given amidst the overwhelming truth being told by the ill man.

    I don’t believe that justice is served by this system but even I would submit that a word in the ear of the accused was all that was needed. A farce could have been avoided even on their own terms.

  • Dec

    A large dose of forgive and forget on display here: forgive the perpatrator and forget the victims.

  • Turgon

    Dec,
    Maybe a fair criticism except I am asking no one to forgive anyone; let alone to forget. I am asking what is the most appropriate offence and what are the precedents. Should a person who brings a fire bomb into a shop to burn it down and kills a woman in the shop be guilty of murder or manslaughter? The precedent is the latter. I also confess to a loathing for the Belfast Telegraph’s current style of sensationalist journalism. Maybe that makes me too sympathetic to the target of its abuse: that might well be fair. However, I have no desire for this woman to get off for her crimes; nor to forget the victims.

  • joeCanuck

    Yes, Dec. It borders on the obscene. In no way is Mrs.Stewart a victim. She is a cold blooded killer who didn’t ever have the courage to try to defend herself on the stand.

  • Turgon

    Joe,
    I am glad you find it obscene. It was indeed exactly the reaction I wanted. I agree it would indeed be obscene if Howell or Stewart (even if she had not actually murdered Leslie Howell and Trevor Buchannan) got only two years in gaol. That would indeed be totally obscene. Even if Stewart were innocent of murder I think she should spend a lot longer than that in gaol.

    Six other police officers were murdered in 1991: how long should their killers remain in gaol if they are caught and convicted? eh Joe?

  • dodrade

    I’m no lawyer but it seems as clear a case of joint enterprise as you will find.

  • Dec

    ‘Six other police officers were murdered in 1991: how long should their killers remain in gaol if they are caught and convicted? eh Joe?’

    Turgon, you could equally argue how long should British soldiers convicted of murder here remain in gaol? 18 months appears to be the average. The bottom line is that she is subject to the same sentencing guidelines as you, me or Joe.

    ‘Should a person who brings a fire bomb into a shop to burn it down and kills a woman in the shop be guilty of murder or manslaughter? The precedent is the latter.’

    Apples and Oranges – she drugged her husband, opened a garage door for Howell to facilitate the disposal of the body of her husband (still alive at that stage), let Howell into the house and disposed of the evidence all while her children slept. If that’s not joint enterprise, I don’t know what is.

  • Turgon

    Dec,
    Could not agree more. Send her away for years and years and years: no complaints from me there. Same sentencing guidelines for anyone be they British Army (I agree re the woefully short time some have spent in gaol), errant housewives …… or terrorists. Thank you all for helping me make my point.

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    From what I know of the case Mrs Stewart was rightfully convicted. Her police interviews provided all the required elements of the offence of murder. There was ‘malice aforethought’ given that Mrs Stewart believed Howell was intent on doing harm and she did nothing to deflect him.

    Indeed she was guilty of a ‘joint enterprise’ as she; committed acts that assisted Howell (administration of the sedative, preparing access for Howell to her home), she knew these acts would assist Howell, she believed at the time that there was a real possibility Howell was intent on harm. Mrs Stewart further assisted in the ‘clean-up’ acts following the murder.

    It would have been unbelievable for the PPS to have accepted a plea to lessor offences.

    In a wider context a defendant such as Hazel Stewart seems to conjure two distinct reactions; put bluntly it’s either the saint or the sinner. I agree that the media very much plays a part in this.

    As to the prisoner release and sentencing policy flowing from the Belfast Agreement – an abomination and the central reason I voted ‘no’. Disgustingly in Alice-In-Wonderland-Northern-Ireland only ‘ordinary decent criminals’ do the time they deserve.

  • I hesitated to become involved in this because my wife takes the same view that Mrs Turgon takes. Guilty as sin and only an aul eejit like me would think otherwise or worse have any sympathy for Hazel Stewart. Cant I tell that by the way she looks.
    I have no time for the tabloid Belfast Telegraph.
    Guilty as charged.
    Deserving of the sentence? Probably….certainly its not a soft sentence but rather like tax evasion there has to be an element of interest/penalties.
    I do feel sorry for the kids……one parent a murderer and one murdered. Tragedy on many levels.
    The Police investigation seems to have been mishandled at the start. People seeing what they maybe wanted to see yet also a curious hindsight from witnesses.
    The whole church thing seems bizarre but no fault of the church itself. Its the role of decent, gullible people to be exploited by people like Colin Howell.
    The thought that he manipulates from his prison cell, knows the right things to say to churchmen is spooky. Forgive him certaiinly……in 20 years or whatever.
    Forgiving him now would only make his time in prison easier. So claims his son.
    Hazel is an attractive and refined lady. But if you cant do the time, dont do the crime.

  • fordprefect

    Turgon,
    I personally think that her barrister was a dick! He could have ripped Howell to shreds over the lies he told alone. As for her “confession”, a cop was telling her what in his opinion happened and she agreed with him. I really feel uneasy about this conviction. I remember an Elder from her church giving evidence in which he said: “she wasn’t street wise or street smart”. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Howell manipulated and bullied her (it’s happened before, remember). I don’t care whether she looked like a model or looked like Anne Widdicombe, it still doesn’t sit right with me.

  • USA

    Turgon,
    Your wife is right.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Well she let Howell put his car in the garage and she drugged her husband to allow the killing to take place. Those two elements make this more than assisting an offender and turn it into the joint enterprise of murder. That’s where the case seemed to rest (I say that with the important caveat that you simply cannot rely on the MSM reporting on these cases). The jury believed the prosecution case. Now, my gut feeling is that it is a bit of a stretch to then say that she was part of a joint enterprise to murder Leslie Howell but perhaps I would feel differently if I was listening to all the evidence.

    I was personally amazed at Mrs Stewart’s conduct during the process. Perhaps it was her husband’s advice that caused it, but her overeagerness to tell the truth seemed to leave her with three different accounts. Shock in these situations can effect your memory. She should only have spoken once and not gone over it and over it. Ultimately, i believe that this mistake made it impossible for her to give evidence. She would have been torn apart and would have been left with no credibility.

    In the end, she didn’t give that court anything to mitigate her sentence. She showed no obvious remorse and she couln’t even get the reduction for pleading guilty. Colin Howell would have gotten 27/28 years had he not pleaded guilty and he gave some signs of remorse. Thats where the 18 years comes from. A bit of a reduction because she didn’t commit the act.

    The strangest thing about this whole case is the issue of why the Police did not investigate the matter further at the time. I think there is one very obvious conclusion in relation to why the Police were so eager to call it double suicide but I would rather not start on-line speculation

  • dwatch

    Zachariah Tiffins Foot: ‘There was ‘malice aforethought’

    100% correct, evidence this happened on the police interview tape was all the prosecution needed to convince the jury Hazel Stewart was guilty of ‘murder’.

    ‘Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being with “malice aforethought”, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide (such as manslaughter)….. most societies both present and in antiquity have considered it a most serious crime worthy of the harshest of punishment. In most countries, a person convicted of murder is typically given a long prison sentence, possibly a life sentence where permitted, and in some countries, the death penalty may be imposed for such an act. A person who commits murder is called a murderer .’

    Comparing the Howell/Stewart case to the eight RUC murders in 1991 or any one of the horrendous 3524 murders during the recent troubles unfortunately does not work legally. As much as many disagreed Mrs Thatcher gave those murders and criminal acts political status after 1981 IRA Long Kesh hunger strike. All were released under the 1998 GFA. Howell & Stewart may have been better treated by the law had they been members of the UVF or IRA.

  • joeCanuck

    ..may have been better treated by the law had they been members of the UVF or IRA.

    I can only assume that you meant something a bit different. I saw no evidence that they were treated unfairly. They both murdered and have been justly convicted and sentenced..
    Turgon’s totally correct observation that society was let down by some horrible people being released far too early is beside the point when it comes to this brutal self-serving couple.

  • dwatch

    ‘I can only assume that you meant something a bit different.’

    Ltes put it this way, had their crime of murder been of a political nature in 1991, they would have been released under the GFA.

    ‘I saw no evidence that they were treated unfairly.’

    Neither did I.

  • Turgon

    Thank you all,
    I think I have now made my point. with the unwitting help of a republicans amongst others.

    I am not a lawyer and I had little real interest in the issue of Stewart being guilty of murder rather than something else.

    The purpose of the blog was two fold: less importantly to point to the Belfast Telegraph’s descent into tabloid land and the voyeuristic nature of the media coverage of this issue.

    More importantly to point to the disparity in sentencing.

    18 years seems quite steep for double murder but it is really only steep if one thinks that mass murder only deserves 2 years. I presume that those republicans who for example “agreed 100%” with my wife feel that two years for terrorist murder is inadequate.

    After all murder is murder: vast differences in sentencing are not beside the point JoeCanuck. Deciding some murders do not matter enough to justify greater than two years in gaol is as joeCanuck pointed out obscene. Even more obscene is complaining that murderers from the past should not be pursued. That seems to be a common and obscene position here in Northern Ireland.

  • Cynic2

    On the evidence she was clearly guilty but I have one lingering concern that might more affect the sentence.

    Howell is an intensely manipulative man with what appears to be a God Complex. He revels in the control of women and all his evidence in the court seemed to suggest that from his cell he relished the platform the trial would give him and this opportunity to again manipulate Hazel Stewart.

    I don’t think he should ever be released again. He is a positive danger to any women and / or their partners or anyone else who might get in his way. I therefore believe that his tariff is far too short had Hazel Stewart’s is perhaps a shade too long.

  • Rory Carr

    The mandatory sentence upon conviction of murder throughout the UK is life imprisonment. This applies whether it be considered that the nature of the offence was what the French term a crime passionel (as perhaps in this case), or committed in the process of robbery or rape or other such lesser crime, or as a result of political struggle or protest.

    After imposing the mandatory life sentence the judge then decides upon a minimum term (known in common parlance as the “tariff”) that must be served before the guilty party can be considered for release upon licence. This tariff system has given rise to much controversy with the public failing to understand why X has a 10 year tariff imposed while Y, who appears to have committed murder in similar circumstances to X has a 15 year tariff imposed.

    While we might think that the public in other parts of the UK have a right to be riled at such seeming disparity in sentence, the people of Northern Ireland do not have that emotional luxury, certainly as far as the system whereby those convicted of murder committed in the course of furthering their political aims prior to the GFA become eligible for release on licence after having served two years is concerned, for they had the option of voting for or against such a system and they voted quite substantially to implement it.

    They did so because they thought that it was a price worth paying in order to secure peace. The peace which has by-and-large obtained since then illustrates that their faith has been rewarded.

    If however scheming, unfaithul spouses were to be released similarly after serving such a short time for the murder of their partners then none of us would sleep easy in our beds.

  • Zig70

    So this isn’t about Hazel at all, it’s just a means to bring up the early release issue without discussing the issues that led to the troubles?
    Would Hazel have taken part in murder if she hadn’t met that nut job? Probably not. Would many convicted terrorists have killed if we lived in a normal society in 69? Again probably not. 10yrs ago Hazel would have been done for aiding and abetting and got a much lower sentence.
    Though the bit that gets me and why I’d see her and others rot is the silence after the crime that compounds the pain.

  • TAFKABO

    What a bizzare blog. I have to wonder if the writer would have bothered had the murderer not been a woman and a self professing Christian?

    A murderer has been tried, found guilty and sentenced, two innocent people have been taken from their families forever but Turgon is upset that the media has had a field day with the more sensationalist aspects of the case.

    By a man’s priorities shall ye know him.

  • Turgon

    TAFKABO,
    Read the comments where I explain exactly what I was at. Sometimes if one wants to expose hypocrisy one needs to leave oneself open to a bit of that charge at the start.

    My real point is that murder is a crime which attracts a life sentence but the real issue for most is how long the guilty person actually spends in gaol.

    Many factors seem to be taken into account but apparently the average life sentence prisoner in the UK spends ten years in gaol. Clearly many factors are taken into account.

    Now as an aside I think Stewart has got quite a long time but that is a complete aside.

    The real issue is as you so correctly said two innocent people have been murdered. Now should Mrs. Stewart or Mr. Howell only get two years in gaol for that: abolsutely not; much more. Should they get two years for each murder and hence, four: absolutely not; much more.

    I only mentioned terrorists in passing because had I done so at the top of the blog lots of pseudo explanations would have been brought forward to explain the gross disparity between some murderers (two years in gaol) and others (much, much longer).

    However, fortunately lots of people (including some republicans: I know you are not one) have taken the bait and told me murder is a terrible crime and people should rot in gaol: that is absolutely fine by me. Now I hope they will accept (though of course they will not) that it is obscene that if Joanne Mathers’ murderer is caught s/he will get a maximum of two years in gaol. I also hope that people will accept that if the murderers of the McGurk’s Bar are caught they will only get two years and that that is also obscene.

    By a man’s priorities shall ye know him indeed: and my priority is pointing out the perverse nature of priorities here. If that has led people to attack me for being soft on crime I do not care: it got a remarkable number of people into the trap.

  • UK View

    There are two separate ways this case could have been judged and assessed in my opinion. I apologise for such a long post

    The first choice

    The first option was that a sexually active and aware woman was bored with her husband, and embarked on an affair with another person who sexually satisfied her. That in itself was not sufficient as the religious and cultural environment of Ireland made it difficult if not impossible for the affair to continue in what may have been a community where everyone knew each other and their business.

    Therefore she and her lover, Colin Howell, hatched what was a successful plot to murder each other’s spouses, of which in Hazel Stewart actively encouraged her husband to take sedatives before he (trustingly) was murdered in his bed in what he thought was his family home. That is a crime so bad I would find it difficult to forgive in this life, and she was perhaps right in saying (as reported) she would (or had) made her own peace with God. Indeed, it was reported she even begged Colin Howell for sex after he had decided to end the affair, and after the initial success, the pair had in covering up the joint murder.

    This I think was the version the jury believed, aided and abetted by Hazel’s own police confessions, and I also think the Judge concurred in that view. I have to conclude if I was judging this case and sincerely believed this version of events to be broadly correct the only suitable punishment would be whole of life imprisonment not just 18 years.

    The second choice.

    It is accepted that certain people have an ability, which together coupled with charisma, to almost completely control and dominate other people for good or bad. Some examples include Pope John Paul 2, Margaret Thatcher, Edward VII, Lenin, some business leaders such as Bill Gates, and I am sure, many other people both male and female around the world.

    This subject has been explored in both fiction and non fiction books, one example that springs readily to mind is Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, who was the keeper of a magic ring called Narya the Great the ring of fire, that gave the wizard the power to move men’s hearts. Another example was in a horror book by Stephen King in which a normal man acquired a talent to totally dominate other people’s minds.

    In real life, hypnotism is a proven fact. Some people are able to hypnotise others to perform the most astonishing acts while appearing to be totally unaware of what they are doing.

    Having set the background to my second choice it might be possible Colin Howell had the ability to dominate Hazel Stewart to the point where she may have had no true free will in terms of her actions and behaviour, hence the consequences of which we have read.

    I accept it would be far harder to prove this point in a court of law and to satisfy a jury, but I am not prepared to totally dismiss it given all the case facts I personally have read. Indeed there are some aspects of Hazels character that do not fit a cold-blooded murderess.

    The legal defence for this would I think be temporary insanity which in many jurisdictions, would if accepted, lead to a verdict of manslaughter. In that set of circumstances it is entirely reasonable a life sentence with a tariff of 18 years is almost barbaric in its harshness. Indeed what would more usually happen would be a period of confinement if the Judge felt on the balance of medical opinion Hazel remained a danger to the public, until such time as she was cured, or a much less harsh prison sentence, accepting a death had happened but was not the defendants direct personal fault

  • Jimmy

    She did it, The family is in denial..

  • Skinner

    I wonder would people be so sympathetic to the idea that she had been manipulated if she was a man. I don’t think so. It’s a very old fashioned way of thinking. It has resonance with the idea in days past that the husband is head of house, the leader, the one who sets the agenda and the opinion; that the wife is not capable of making up her own mind.

    This is the right result from what I’ve read of the facts, even if she was weak-minded. Weak-minded people do terrible things but we don’t excuse them for it.

  • dwatch

    Jimmy ‘She did it, The family is in denial.’

    Good point, the members of her family don’t want their mother or wife to be named as a murderer the same as her co partner in crime Colin Howell. Denial is their only way of dealing with it.

  • Irishlassabroad

    I am completely biased in my opinion here as I lived across the road from Hazel and Trevor in Omagh. Trevor was a lovely, kind and funny man who did not deserve to be murdered by the woman he loved in his own bed. She may not have done it herself but as noted she did nothing to stop it.

    I do feel sorry for her kids but want her to rot

  • Neil

    Apples and Oranges Turgon.

    In your view you condemn outright Republican and Loyalist killers from over the years. Ok I get it.

    Some Nationalists, also, condemn all Republican and Loyalist from over the years. They’re your opposite number.

    And some people seek to explain why the murders happen, and to justify early release from prison for combatants.

    However few seek to compare politically motivated murders with murders committed for lust, greed etc. The motivations are very different whether you like it or not. Many Loyalist and Republican combatants ended up in jail and gave years of their lives in sacrifice for something they believed in. Alien to you but that’s fair enough.

    You would clearly prefer to have all actors still in prison and the conflict to be continued until the IRA had been beaten militarily (unlike the vast majority) and which would never have happened according to the military, just the same as Big Jim. It’s very principled if you actually do see Unionism and the old Stormont regime as blameless in the problems here. However unfortunately more would have died. Most people see various sacrifices (prisoner releases, articles 2 & 3 Irish constitution etc. etc. etc.) as the price of peace.

    And having heard about your ‘trap’ it makes me wish I’d posted that which I’d typed yesterday agreeing that the justice system is a total mess, as I doubt Hazel, for her faults, is a threat to anyone in future. While scumbags get released from prison in the full knowledge that they’ll murder someone sooner or later. But hey, can’t win ’em all.

  • dwatch

    ‘I do feel sorry for her kids but want her to rot’

    Irishlassabroad, one wonders how many others who actually knew both Hazel and Trevor before 1991 feel as you ?

  • Turgon

    Neil,
    It will surprise you to find that on one level I agree with you. I do not think that the terrorists should spend forever in gaol. Furthermore once the violence had stopped I think they represented less of a threat to society (not no threat as several loyalists have demonstrated). I think shorter sentences would have been reasonable. However, two years is too short for murder. In addition it now makes no distinction between terrorist crimes. The foolish youung man (or woman) who got mixed up but had a minor role may have got little more than two years whereas a mass murdered got the same. Going forward if the HET do achieve a significant number of successful prosecutions that will be an even bigger problem.

    I am not a put them in gaol and throw away the key type at all. I do think, however, that the crime and the punishment should be related. I strongly suspect if a shortened but not so shortened gaol term had been suggested it might have been accepted by the parties: it would almost certainly have been by the public and accepted more readily than what was actually agreed.

    Re Hazel Stewart it is difficult and I can see people’s point entirely but in all honesty I do think that 18 years seems a long time for what she did. I doubt she is much danger to society. Yes she should be punished but it seems longer than one might have expected.

  • fordprefect

    Turgon,
    Don’t be so insulting to Republicans, I am a Republican, and, I still stand over what I wrote earlier!

  • Eglise en bois

    As with all sentences,acceptance of guilt, danger to the public, likelihood of reoffending and deterent factor, are the key considerations when sentences are handed down.

    The other consideration is societal expectation and once found guilty expectation was for a severe sentence.

    Acceptance of guilt and remorse would have gone in her favour, as would going on to the stand and making her case.

    In conclusion even the family’s suggestion that it might have been better had this not come out, creates a sense that a cover up would have been desirable – all wrong

  • tommyup2here

    TURGON. You come across as a person whose head is so full of big words and a burning desire to appear an intellectual that there is little room in there for anything else. ie common sense. Murder is murder. What sentence can be too long for planning and participating in the taking of someone’s life. In the case of premeditated murder life should mean life.

  • cheese

    The minimum for double murder is 15 years. Is three years over the min too long. You have to consider victim impact. Think about the guilt family members feel about a completed suicide in the family. That guilt was manufactured jointly by Mrs Stewart. 18 years seems fair to me.

  • cheese

    Fordperfect,

    Mrs Stewart’s confession was nothing like that. It took until I think the 13th or 14th before she actually told the truth in her own words. At the end the detective summarised what she had admitted to like a checklist, and she was given the opportunity to agree/disagree. Is this what is confusing you? She could have taken the stand to refute the evidence against but she did not. I wouldn’t base your opinion about Mrs Stewart on a sympathetic church elder, she convinced everyone for 20 years about her story very well. If thats not street smart I don’t know what is. Its easy to demonise Howell and claim he is a master manipulator, I’ve no doubt he is on some level. Just remember he was scammed out of around £350k by some gangsters in the Phillipines to add some balance to your view. I see no evidence that he ‘controlled’ Mrs Stewart. The defensed searched far and wide for a Psychiatrist to back up their diminished responsibility claim but none were forthcoming.

  • fordprefect

    Cheese,
    Nothing confusing me. Like I said in my first post: her barrister was a dick and so, obviously was her solicitor for not telling her to remain silent.

  • Procrasnow

    May God protect each and every one of us from ‘Devout Christians’

    What’s the betting after both these trials giving us this example of a Christian Lifestyle, that other ‘Devout Christians’ will again take to the streets of Belfast and point their finger at Gays

    Should be a very good chance of it, after all they did so last year after Iris Robinson gave us her example of Christian Lifestyle

    How long before the gays have enough of the hypocrisy that is Christianity and the devout Christian lifestyle?