Killer dentist guilty of sexually abusing his sedated patients
Colin Howell: admitted groping female patients
KILLER dentist Colin Howell has been sentenced to five and a half years for indecently assaulting five of his female patients while they were under sedation.
Howell (52), a former lay preacher who is already serving 21 years for murdering his wife and his ex-lover's husband, admitted 12 charges of taking advantage of the women between 2004 and 2008.
He groped and fondled some as he helped them down the stairs of his practice in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, while he placed the hand of another on his groin while she lay unconscious on the chair.
A number had asked to be heavily sedated because they had a serious phobia about dental treatments.
The self-professed devout Christian stared impassively forward as Judge Corine Philpott passed the sentence, which will run concurrently with his life murder tariff.
She noted that some of his victims did not even know what had happened to them.
Last year the dentist was sentenced to life in prison, with a 21-year minimum term, after confessing to murdering his wife Lesley and Trevor Buchanan, the policeman husband of his then lover Hazel Stewart, in Coleraine, Co Derry, in May 1991.
Stewart (48) was also convicted of the double murder, which police believed for 19 years was suicide, after standing trial earlier this year. She is serving an 18-year minimum life term.
Before sentencing for the indecent assaults yesterday, barrister Neil Connor had argued that there were a number of aggravating factors.
"This was a gross breach of trust by the accused, who was working in a professional capacity," he said.
He said the vulnerability of the women, the number of victims and length of time over which the crimes were carried out should also be considered.
"These were vulnerable people who placed their trust in the accused and that trust was systemically abused," he said.
Mr Connor said that while some patients were not aware of what had happened -- the crimes only came to light when Howell told police -- he had duped another when she challenged him the next time she visited the surgery.
"He explained to her that sexual or erotic dreams were a common side effect of the sedative in question," he told the court.
But defence counsel Richard Weir insisted that Howell had not sedated the women to facilitate the crimes. He said it was incorrect to claim he "systemically" abused his patients as five women represented only a tiny proportion of all those people he treated.
He also stressed that the crimes would not have emerged if it had not been for the dentist admitting them.
Howell pleaded guilty to three of the counts last October and admitted a further nine earlier this month just moments before his trial was due to start.
Five other charges facing him were not pursued and will remain on the books.
Yesterday, noting that he had another 19 years to serve, Judge Philpott said she would not impose a Sexual Offences Prevention Order but said the authorities may wish to review this upon his release.