| 11°C Dublin

'Show mercy to mum who killed our father'

THE children of convicted killer Hazel Stewart have begged a judge to give her mercy when deciding her sentence.

The mother of two (48) was found guilty earlier this month of killing the father of her children, and her lover's wife 20 years ago.

But her children, Lisa and Andrew, have begged the judge to be lenient with their mother when he announces her sentencing for the murder of her ex-husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell.

Her children remained dutifully by her side for the duration of her trial, and both let out cries of shock when it was announced that their mother had been found guilty.

Defence lawyer Paul Ramsey said: "They have memories of their father and love for their father and they know she played a role in their father's death, but nonetheless they stand by her."

Hazel's former lover Colin Howell pleaded guilty and is now serving a 21-year sentence.

But relatives of the victims have been a regular fixture in the Stewart trial, and were present at yesterday's sentencing hearing in Belfast Crown Court.

Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell were found in a fume filled garage in Derry in May, 1991. It was originally thought to have been a suicide pact between the two jilted partners.

However, nearly 20 years later, Colin came forward and confessed to the killings.

Although Stewart's children have pleaded with the judge to give leniency to their mother, Crown lawyer Ciaran Murphy referred to victim impact statements of the victims' families.

Mr Murphy referenced the guilt that the family members have been battling for the past 18 years, that their loved ones had no choice but to end their own lives.

"These provide profound material on the devastating effect those deaths had and continue to have upon the families," he said.

And he referred to a statement made by Mr Buchanan's brother Gordon, who revealed the devastation his father felt hugging his dead son's body.

"He outlines his father's reaction on seeing his son when he was dead and lifting him in his arms and saying to him, 'Why didn't you come to me, son'. He found that a heart-wrenching occasion.

"These dignified people have suffered a tragic event which will not leave them, and Hazel Stewart has a lot to answer for."

However, Stewart's lawyer emphasised that she had broken down when she was being interviewed by police.

The judge will pass sentence on Wednesday, and declared that the sentence would be "fair, just and adequately reflects her role and not one that would crush her".

cmcbride@herald.ie