Dentist gets life in jail for horrific double murder
Published 19/11/2010 | 05:00
A dentist was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for the murders of his wife and his ex-lover's husband, who were poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes almost 20 years ago.
Dr Colin Howell (51), changed his plea at Belfast Crown Court and admitted the 1991 killings which police first thought was a suicide pact.
He pleaded guilty to murdering his wife and mother-of-four Lesley (31), and RUC man Trevor Buchanan (32), whose bodies were discovered in a fume-filled car in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry.
Howell, also from Castlerock, had denied the two charges since his arrest last year, but owned up to the double murder in the dock, as relatives of his victims looked on.
His former lover, Hazel Stewart, married to PC Buchanan at the time, is due to stand trial for the two murders in Coleraine, Co Derry, next week.
Mother-of-two Mrs Stewart (47) from Ballystrone Road, Coleraine -- she later remarried -- was in the Laganside court building yesterday but was not in court as her co-accused changed his plea.
Howell spoke only three times during the 10-minute hearing -- once to confirm his name and to answer guilty to each charge in turn.
Judge Mr Justice Anthony Hart told him that he would be jailed for life, his minimum term to be determined later.
At the time, it was believed the two victims had taken their own lives because of depression over an affair between Howell and Stewart. But detectives reopened the investigation in January last year when they interviewed Howell.
As well as the two murders, Howell was also questioned about the death of his father-in-law Harry Clarke (69), an ex-Royal Marine and company director, who collapsed and died at Howell's home just 12 days before the bodies of his daughter and PC Buchanan were found. Howell categorically denied he was responsible.
Mr Clarke, who had been suffering from flu and staying in the Howells' spare bedroom, is believed to have had a heart attack in the kitchen of the house at Knocklayde Park, Coleraine.
A year after the police launched an investigation, a coroner's court inquest said the deaths were suicides, both victims having been poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes.
The Howells' children, Daniel and Lauren, were in court to hear their father plead guilty to their mother's murder and the murder of PC Buchanan, a scenes of crime officer with the RUC.
Howell's second wife Kyle (44), a US divorcee, has moved to Florida with the couple's five children and has filed for divorce. She was not in court yesterday.
Howell has already admitted indecent assault charges against three of his patients in April and July 2008 at his clinic in Ballymoney.
Mrs Stewart's trial is due to begin next week.