A jury was sworn in today at the start of a trial of a woman accused of murdering her policeman husband and her ex-lover’s wife in the North almost 20 years ago.
The nine men and three women were told the hearing at Coleraine, Co Derry, could last for four weeks and would involve evidence from Baptist Church friends of mother-of-two Hazel Stewart, 47, who has pleaded not guilty.
She has denied the murders of her husband, Pc Trevor Buchanan, 32, and Lesley Howell, 31, the wife of her then lover, dentist Colin Howell, whose bodies were discovered in a car in Castlerock, Co Derry, in May 1991.
At the time it was thought they had died as a result of a suicide pact, but police reopened the investigation in January 2009 after interviewing Howell.
He was jailed for 21 years last November after he admitted gassing Pc Buchanan and Mrs Howell, the mother of his four children, at their homes in Coleraine on the night it was thought they had taken their own lives.
Stewart, of Ballystrone Road, Coleraine – she later remarried – and Howell, formerly of Glebe Road, Castlerock, were having an affair at the time.
Today’s hearing lasted less than an hour.
Stewart, wearing a green woven tweed jacket and black trousers, stood to attention in the dock, nodded and replied “Yes” when she was asked to confirm her name and if she was ready for her trial to begin in front of Mr Justice Anthony Hart.
Her second husband, retired police chief superintendent David Stewart, her son Andrew and daughter Lisa were among relatives who sat in the public gallery beside Pc Buchanan’s brothers and two sisters.
Howell, who owned dental practices in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, and Bangor, Co Down, his wife, a former nurse, as well as the Buchanan couple, were members of Coleraine Baptist Church at the time of the deaths and the court heard today that a former pastor, John Hansford, will be among witnesses being called to give evidence.
Howell, 52, who is serving his sentence at Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim, is also due to be called to testify as a prosecution witness.
The trial will get under way tomorrow with an opening statement by the Crown.
Stewart was granted continuing bail.