Ex-lovers who deny murders face further mental tests
A DENTIST and his ex-lover accused of murdering their partners 19 years ago are to undergo further psychiatric examinations.
New medical reports on Dr Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart are to be prepared before their trial begins later this year, Belfast Crown Court was told yesterday.
The pair stood in the dock before Mr Justice Hart and pleaded not guilty to the murders of Mr Howell's Plymouth-born wife Lesley, who was trained as a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, and Ms Stewart's first husband, police officer Trevor Buchanan.
Their bodies were found in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry, in May 1991.
The trial, expected to last between three and four weeks, is due to begin in mid-November, but before then fresh psychiatric tests are to be conducted and reports submitted by early September.
Apart from replying "not guilty" when they were formally arraigned, Mr Howell (51), of Glebe Road, Castlerock, and Ms Stewart (47), of Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, Co Derry, did not speak during the 10-minute hearing.
Ms Stewart has been out on bail since she and Mr Howell were arrested by police in January last year when detectives re-opened an investigation into the two deaths.
Ms Stewart had to surrender her passport and report daily to the police. Mr Howell is being held on remand at Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim, where he has already been examined by psychiatrist Helen Harbinson.
It emerged during yesterday's hearing that he is to undergo further tests by Philip Joseph, a psychiatrist from England, who has been called in by his legal team.
It is still not clear whether the trial will be held in Co Belfast or Co Antrim.
Relatives of Mr Buchanan, who have attended every hearing since the arrests, filled almost half the public gallery yesterday. His brothers Gordon, Victor, Jackie and Raymond as well as his two sisters, Valerie and Melva, were there and, for the first time, Lesley Howell's only brother Chris Clarke, an anaesthetist working in England, took a seat in the court.
Ms Howell's elderly father Sam, his two sisters Pauline and Maud, and his brother Jim sat at the opposite end of the gallery.
Mr Buchanan's body was found slumped below the steering wheel in the driver's seat of the Howell family Renault estate. A vacuum cleaner hose had been connected to the exhaust and the other end was inside the boot where the body of Ms Howell, a mother of four, was lying. She was surrounded by framed family photographs and wearing a headset listening to music from her personal stereo.
At the time police believed the two had died as a result of a suicide pact after their partners owned up to having an affair. An inquest a year later determined the cause of death as poisoning by carbon monoxide.
The car had been reversed into a garage behind a row of houses known as The Apostles, high above the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry, where Ms Howell's father lived. He had collapsed and died at his son-in-law's house in Coleraine 12 days earlier.