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Mum did not kill our dad say jailed Hazel's children

THE children of Hazel Stewart are standing by their mum after insisting they cannot accept she is guilty of murdering their father.

Lisa McConnell and Andrew Buchanan were just eight and seven when their father, Trevor, was killed.

Earlier this month their mum Hazel (49) was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Leslie Howell and Trevor Buchanan.

Now, her children have said they are devastated at having their mother "vanish from their lives".

"We lost our dad, this nearly feels like we are going to lose our mum," said her son, Andrew.

Stewart's two children, Lisa and Andrew, and her second husband, David, talked about their refusal to accept her guilt in an interview for BBC NI's Spotlight,

"We love our father and our mother," said Andrew.



SICK

"We are not taking any sides. We would not have wanted what happened to our dad ever to happen. But we lost our dad and this nearly feels like we are going to lose our mum.

"We can't move on. This is the beginning for us of our lives, trying to adapt to what is going to happen."

Speaking of the guilty verdict, Lisa said she felt "just sick... it was an awful, awful moment".

Andrew, who slumped forward in court when the verdict was read out, said he felt a strong sense of disbelief: "Did I actually hear that? I just could not believe it. Just disbelief."

Hazel Stewart's husband David, a former chief superintendent, also spoke of the devastation and loss caused to Hazel's children.

He also refused to accept the verdict and revealed he was convinced his wife was manipulated and controlled by Colin Howell. She was like a "frightened rabbit".

He is determined to stand by his wife and said he worked hard to find out exactly what happened.

"I had no doubt that I had to know what happened. It was not going to be a comfortable; 'I didn't do it, David' and I accepted that. That is not how I think, I question things and have to understand.

"Over a period of at least a month, maybe longer, I asked Hazel questions. I am not going to say it was relentless. It might have been 10 minutes one day, it might have been an hour another day...but I asked her every question in every area that I could think of to get to the truth."

Stewart's former lover Howell pleaded guilty to the double murder 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 in January 2009, when Colin Howell confessed to murdering his wife and Stewart's husband.

Stewart's trial heard that she played a part in the planning of the killings and disposed of evidence. She was unanimously convicted by a jury of the double murder.



COMPASSION

She was told last week that she must serve a minimum of 18 years in jail.

In his six-page judgement, Mr Justice Hart said she did not have a spark of compassion for her husband while he was being murdered by Colin Howell.

It is understood that Hazel Stewart's lawyers are planning to lodge an appeal against her conviction.

hnews@herald.ie