The Secret Netflix: Where is Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart now and did they go to prison?

The fascinating crime drama has just landed on Netflix

Where is Colin Howell
(Image credit: Hat Trick Productions)

The Secret is the latest crime drama that's been added to Netflix and it's based on the real life murders of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell. But where is killer Colin Howell and his lover Hazel Stewart now?

Netflix is dominated by true crime capers of late with The Most Hated Man on the Internet documentary looking into the revenge porn controversy of Hunter Moore, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey exploring the frightening underworld of the FLDS and it's leader Warren Jeffs, whilst new docu-series I Just Killed My Dad explores the harrowing tale of Anthony Templet. Joining this line up is true crime series The Secret - which already has viewers hooked. The programme tells the story of how Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart murdered their partners back in 1991 during their affair so that they could be together. 

The bodies were found in a fume filled car in Castlerock, Northern Ireland and the police were falsely led to believe they had died as the result of a suicide pact - after discovering their spouses had been having an affair. Gripped by the real life story many want to know where Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart now and if they went to prison for their cover-up.

Where is Colin Howell now?

Colin Howell is still alive and currently serving a 21 year prison sentence in Maghaberry Prison, Northern Ireland. The murders of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell went undetected for 18 years before Colin finally confessed nearly two decades later. 

He pleaded guilty to the murders in 2010. This means he could be due for release in 2031.

James Nesbitt playing murderer Colin Howell now in The Secret

James Nesbitt plays the role of Colin Howell in The Secret on Netflix

(Image credit: Hat Trick Productions)

On the night of 18 to 19 May 1991 – his son’s second birthday – Colin gassed his wife Lesley, 31, and dumped her in the boot of his estate car. He then went to the home of Hazel and Trevor Buchanan and suffocated him. The pair were then positioned in the vehicle, where the deaths were made to appear like a suicide.

Colin confessed to a church pastor on January 28, 2009, who then implicated Stewart with every detail he could recall. Former dentist Colin, who's now in his early 60s, was also convicted of the indecent assault of five women. They had all had been drugged and abused while they were patients at his dental surgery. 

Colin said in police interviews that he had drugged his lover for sex sessions, but insisted it had been consensual. Colin and Hazel's relationship had ended by 1996, just five years after the murders.

Where is Hazel Stewart now?

Hazel Stewart was convicted of the double murder in 2011 and is serving an 18 year prison sentence at Hydebank Prison in Belfast. After being convicted himself, Colin implicated Hazel and gave compelling evidence at her trial.

After she was convicted, trial judge Mr Justice Hart said she could have saved her husband’s life if she had wanted.

The court had heard she'd played a part in planning the murders and disposed of evidence. However, to this day she protests her innocence, claiming Colin was the mastermind behind the double murders and has made several attempts to get her conviction overturned.

Where is Colin Howell

Hazel Stewart leaving court. She is portrayed by Genevieve O'Reilly in The Secret on Netflix.

(Image credit: Alamy)

In January 2013 her appeal against being convicted of Lesley Howell's murder was dismissed. At that stage she abandoned her challenge to being found guilty of killing her first husband.

Then, in October 2015 senior judges in Belfast dismissed a legal bid to have that move annulled, ruling there was no merit in new arguments mounted in a bid to clear her name.

Last year, speaking from prison, Hazel claimed that Colin had manipulated her and abused her throughout their affair.

She told the Belfast Telegraph that he held “all the power” and that he would gas her at his surgery in what she thinks were practice runs for the assaults he carried out on patients.

She said: "Even when he was taking me to the surgery and gassing me, he was experimenting on me and I knew that. How could I stop it? My self-worth was on the ground, I was holding a secret that no one knew about.

"Most of the time I just wanted to die, I wanted it over. I didn't care if he gassed me, I didn't care because my life was not my own life. I couldn't go anywhere, I couldn't do anything."

The Public Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Colin for the alleged rape and sexual assault of Hazel during their time together. However, June 2021, it was reported that her lawyers were planning to challenge that decision, claiming she is being discriminated against because she is in prison.

When is Hazel Stewart’s release date?

Hazel was convicted in March 2011 and given an 18 year sentence. This means she is due for release in 2029.  However, if she does plan to appeal again and is successful, she could be released earlier.

A legal source revealed to Sunday World in July 2021: "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'."

They added: "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."

If she is successful in proving that Colin did rape her, it is thought 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.

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

Where is Colin Howell

(Image credit: Hat Trick Productions)

How many children does Colin Howell have and where are they now? 

Colin Howell has nine children in total. His eldest four children were with his first wife, Lesley Howell. After he murdered Lesley, he married Kyle Jorgensen and they had a further five children together.

In 2016, it was revealed that only one of his children, Lauren, had visited him in prison. At the time, Lauren was studying for a doctorate into the devastation caused by murderers like her dad.

Lauren previously said that while she was appalled by what her father had done, she still loved him.

She admitted: “I can’t believe what he’s done, and I’ll never understand why, but I have seen him, and if I didn’t believe his remorse was genuine, I wouldn’t see him. At the end of the day he’s my father and I love him."

a photo of Lauren Bradford the daughter of Colin Howell leaving court

Lauren Bradford - the daughter of Colin Howell and Lesley Howell - leaving court with her husband Michael in March 2011. 

(Image credit: Alamy)

She added: “I can’t help having those feelings for him, and I won’t apologise for having those feelings for him, I love him very much. Although I’ll never understand, he is the only one who can give me some of the answers I need.”

Tragically, one of Colin's sons, Matthew, died at the age of just 22 back in 2007. He plunged 40ft to his death after he lost his grip on a stairwell and fell from an apartment block in Russia in 2007.

Colin is said to have believed that his son's death was God’s way of punishing him for murdering his wife Lesley and love rival Trevor Buchanan and led to his confession.

How many episodes of The Secret?

The Secret consists of four hour-long episodes. The show originally aired on ITV back in 2016, but has just been added to Netflix. The show stars James Nesbitt as Colin Howell and Genevieve O'Reilly plays Hazel Stewart. It's also available to watch on Britbox.

James has previously opened up about his personal connection to the case. He said: "My sister used to go to Lesley’s coffee mornings and two of my best friends were patients of Colin’s.”

He added of the series: "Everyone now has an opinion on Colin, particularly in Northern Ireland, where there’s almost a frenzy about this series coming out.

“A lot of people would say, ‘Oh yes, I knew there was something strange about him’, but that’s in retrospect, and the retrospect is influenced by the fact he was convicted.”

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Robyn Morris
Entertainment writer - contributor

Robyn is a freelance celebrity journalist with ten years experience in the industry. While studying for a degree in Media and Cultural Studies at London College of Communication, she did internships at Now and Heat magazines. After graduating, she landed a job at Star magazine, where she worked her way up to features editor. She then worked at Future as Deputy Celebrity Content Director across Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman’s Weekly and Woman & Home magazines.