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Appeal attempt Double killer Hazel Stewart claims she was raped by Howell as she launches latest bid for freedom

The mother of two is currently serving out an 18-year life sentence for the twin murders of her police officer husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, the wife of her ex-lover Colin Howell

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Hazel Stewart

Hazel Stewart

Hazel Stewart

Double killer Hazel Stewart has launched her latest bid for freedom, it has been claimed.

The mother of two is currently serving out an 18-year life sentence for the twin murders of her police officer husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, the wife of her ex-lover Colin Howell.

This week legal sources claimed Hazel Stewart - who has already had two appeals against conviction dismissed - appears determined to return once more to the Court of Appeal.

"If Howell was ever to be convicted of raping Hazel, then it is likely another presentation will come before the Court of Appeal. And the key phrase in her case probably be 'coercive control'," a veteran legal source said this week.

"Very little was known about coercive control when Hazel Stewart was convicted of murder 10 years ago. In fact, it had rarely been mentioned in the courts," he added.

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Double killer Colin Howell

Double killer Colin Howell

Double killer Colin Howell

 

But before returning to the Court of Appeal, Hazel must first persuade the criminal courts that she was a victim of repeated rape by her manipulating lover Howell.

At no stage during police questioning did Hazel claim she had been raped by Howell or even when a number of other women had made complaints of sexual assault against him.

Howell - who is currently languishing in HMP Maghaberry serving out a 21-year sentence - was later also convicted of carrying out a string of sex assaults against women patients in his Coleraine dental practice.

It also emerged Howell had injected Stewart with drugs.

If she is successful in proving Howell raped her, it is believed Hazel will then argue in the Court of Appeal that she wasn't in a fit state of mind to know what she was doing when she took part in his premeditated double murder plan.

"This appears to be Hazel's plan, but she still has a legal mountain to climb," said our legal source.

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Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell lost their lives as a result of Howell forcing them to breathe in toxic carbon monoxide fumes.

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The late Lesley Howell

The late Lesley Howell

The late Lesley Howell

The Troubles still had a few years to run when in May 1991, news broke that a couple from Coleraine had taken their own lives in an apparent suicide pact.

The bodies of father-of-two Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, a mum of four and the wife of high-flying dentist Colin Howell, were discovered in a fume-filled car.

It had been parked in a narrow lock-up garage at the rear of a row of picturesque cottages known locally as the 12 Apostles, near Castlerock, Co Derry.

The deaths gave the impression of being the tragic outworking of an illicit love affair. At the time, it was believed the guilt had become too much for the deceased and they had decided to end it all by taking their own lives - or so it seemed.

A number of people in the north west however, including Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart, knew different. And others, who also had deep suspicions, kept their own counsel.

A police investigation - which later came in for major criticism - found nothing untoward.

The truth - which emerged nearly 20 years later - only came to light when Howell confessed to police that it was him and Hazel who had been having an affair.

And when he presented her with a plan to kill their spouses - but make it look like a double suicide - she readily agreed.

Deeply religious Howell - whose personal life had crashed from one disaster to another - believed God was making him pay for his sins.

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Trevor Buchanan

Trevor Buchanan

Trevor Buchanan

But what complicated matters even more was that the love affair for which they had been prepared to kill, didn't last.

And by the time they were arrested, convicted and sent to prison for life nearly 20 years later, Howell and Hazel had remarried other people.

Hazel Stewart later sold the smart bungalow home she once shared with Trevor Buchanan and their two children. There is no evidence, however, that she informed prospective buyers that her husband had been murdered in the master bedroom.

Colin Howell, a father of four, married Kyle Jorgensen, a native of New York. They later had five children together.

And mother-of-two Hazel Buchanan later married David Stewart, a senior police officer with many years experience as a crime investigator.

During her trial for murder, it emerged Hazel had made major admissions to the police and she was convicted mainly on her own evidence.

Judge Anthony Harte reminded members of the jury that before convicting Hazel of murder, they must be convinced that Howell and Stewart had engaged in a joint enterprise.

"Were they in this together?" he asked.

Judge Harte also pointed out that a number of opportunities had arisen when Hazel could have prevented the death of her husband, but she chose not to take them.

But as the real story of the Castlerock double murders began to unfold, some heartbreaking and shocking off-shoot evidence also emerged.   

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Jimmy Nesbitt and Genevieve O’Reilly in The Secret

Jimmy Nesbitt and Genevieve O’Reilly in The Secret

Jimmy Nesbitt and Genevieve O’Reilly in The Secret

 

Reflecting on the almost unspeakable fact that his brother Trevor had woken from a deep sleep at the very moment Colin Howell was trying to kill him, Gordon Buchanan said: "I will forever be haunted by the knowledge Trevor was aware of what was being done to him in his own bed - the safest place one could imagine."

No doubt riddled with guilt, Hazel opted not to have her husband waked in the family home. Instead, mourners wishing to pay their last respects were required to view Trevor's body in a funeral parlour.

One of those who attended was Trevor's dad Jim, who went with his wife and other members of the family.

As Jim viewed his son lying in his coffin, he noticed bruising on his face and a cut on his mouth. It appeared as though his teeth had pierced the skin, possibly as a result of blow to the head.

But little did Jim know that a few days before, Trevor had been fighting for his life.

The marks on Trevor's face were as a result of Howell punching him when he woke up as he was being forced to breathe in deadly exhaust fumes.

Jim was convinced his son had taken his own life. And consumed with grief, he lent forward over the coffin.

He then lifted his dead son's head and upper body up into his arms, before uttering: "Why did you do it son? You could have come to me."

Jim went to his grave unaware his son Trevor had been murdered by his wife and her lover Colin Howell.

Trevor Buchanan is buried in Coleraine Cemetery a few yards away from the final resting place of Lesley Howell.

The stranger-than-fiction story - which shocked the nation when it came to light - was made into the highly-acclaimed TV drama The Secret.

Jimmy Nesbitt starred as the scheming dentist Colin Howell, while hard-hearted Hazel - who stood idly by as Howell murdered her sleeping husband - was played by top actor Genevieve O'Reilly.

The four-part series was based on Let This Be Our Secret, a bestselling book by journalist Deric Henderson.

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