A DENTIST who murdered his wife and ex-lover's husband before covering it up as suicide has apologised as verdicts delivered at the original inquest were overturned.
Colin Howell (52) concealed the murders of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan for almost 20 years before confessing to elders in his church.
He told a coroner yesterday in Belfast that he wished he could turn back time.
The former lay preacher and Mr Buchanan's widow Hazel Stewart (48) are now serving life terms for the double murder in Coleraine in 1991.
At the start of a new inquest into the deaths, a letter Howell wrote from his prison cell in Maghaberry high security jail was read to the court.
"I wish I could turn back time but I cannot, and I am helpless to offer up any good thing except for my acts of remorse and the hope of healing for my victims who have been so deeply impacted and wounded by me," he stated. "I am so sorry."
The bodies of Mrs Howell (31) and policeman Mr Buchanan (32) were found in a car in a fume-filled garage in the seaside town of Castlerock. The dentist had staged the scene after poisoning the pair.
Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey re-registered the deaths as carbon monoxide poisoning by homicide after a short hearing.
During the inquest a police officer confirmed that friends of the deceased had expressed concerns that the deaths were suspicious to police at the time of the original investigation.
Mr Buchanan and Mrs Stewart's two children, Andrew and Lisa, were both in court sitting alongside her second husband, retired senior police officer David Stewart.
On the other side of the public gallery were Lesley and Colin Howell's daughter Lauren Bradford and brothers and sisters of Mr Buchanan.
They sat in silence as Howell's letter was read out.
"My journey of truth and remorse continues today by the confessions I have made, resulting in a life sentence for the murders of these innocent and honorable people," the dentist wrote.
Last year Howell pleaded guilty and was handed a minimum 21-year term.
Stewart (48) contested the charges during a high-profile murder trial this year but a jury ultimately found her guilty on both counts. She is serving an 18-year minimum life term.
Both killers lied to the original inquest in May 1992, suggesting that their partners had taken their own lives because they could not cope with their infidelity.
The deaths were not explicitly registered as suicide at the time, but the findings pointed to that conclusion, stating that both were emotionally upset prior to being found in the fume-filled garage.
Mr Buchanan's family had asked for a new inquest to be held in light of the convictions.
The coroner said he would register the deaths as carbon monoxide poisoning but would add "homicidal". He also changed the place of death from the garage in Castlerock to the victims' respective homes in Coleraine.
"Lesley Anne Elizabeth Howell and Trevor Andrew Buchanan went to their graves subject to the gross lie they had taken their own lives," he said.
"But the truth did come out and the truth is that they were murdered."
Outside court, Mrs Bradford welcomed the verdict. "It's been an awful two years and we just hope this can be the beginning of some closure for us."