Tightly grasping her husband’s hand, Hazel Stewart left Laganside Courthouse where she and her former lover, Coleraine dentist Colin Howell, denied murdering their partners almost 20 years ago.
The devout Christian, wearing a cross around her neck, held onto her retired police officer husband David Stewart for support as she walked from the building in Belfast yesterday morning.
Moments earlier the 47-year-old Coleraine woman and her ex-lover pleaded not guilty to killing his wife Lesley and her first husband, RUC Constable Trevor Buchanan, in May 1991.
As she was led into the dock Howell glanced towards his former mistress, but she did not look at him, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the ground throughout the short hearing.
For the second time since their arrest last year the pair stood just feet apart in the dock, with a prison guard between them, as the murder charges were read. Stewart’s husband sat in a chair next to the dock and watched intently during the hearing.
The pair’s alleged victims’ bodies were discovered in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in the seaside town of Castlerock. A coroner had originally ruled that the pair had taken their own lives in a suicide pact, but the case was reopened last year after new information was given to police.
Dressed in a smart beige suit Howell (51), of Glebe Road, Castlerock, stood with his hands by his side and bit his lip as the murder charges were read out. Stewart, dressed in a black jacket and white shirt, blushed slightly as she stood in the dock.
Behind the pair in the public gallery sat Mr Buchanan’s family. Lesley Howell’s only brother Chris Clarke, who had travelled from England for the hearing, also sat at the back of the courtroom.
Howell’s elderly father Sam, his two sisters and a brother were also in court.
The court was told yesterday that Howell is to undergo psychiatric tests, to be carried out by Dr Philip Joseph, a psychiatrist from England who has been called in by the dentist’s legal team. Psychiatric examinations are also to be carried out on Stewart.
Defence barristers for the two accused — Stephen Fowler QC for Stewart and Richard Weir QC for Howell — told Judge Mr Justice Hart that there were outstanding medical reports to be obtained.
The judge said he would like to set a date for trial within the next few days. The trial is expected to begin in mid-November.
Stewart was released on continuing bail and grabbed her husband’s hand as she left the courtroom. As Howell was being handcuffed to be taken back into custody he once again glanced at Stewart, but she did not look towards him.
The former lovers’ partners were found dead in a car that 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 Mrs Howell's father, retired company director Harry Clarke, lived. He collapsed and died at his son-in-law's house in Coleraine 12 days earlier.
Mr Buchanan was slumped by the steering wheel in the driver's seat of the Howell family car. A vacuum cleaner hose had been connected to the exhaust and the other end was in the boot where Mrs Howell’s body was found.
Howell is also facing charges of drugging and indecently assaulting four of his women patients.
His second wife Kyle and most of the couple's 10 children are now living in the US.
Portadown-born Colin Howell — who had surgeries in Ballymoney and Bangor — was one of Northern Ireland’s top cosmetic dentists. The father-of-10, who also lectured at Queen’s University, was at the top of his profession before his dramatic arrest last year. He is charged, along with his former lover Hazel Stewart, with murdering their former partners Lesley Howell (31) and policeman Trevor Buchanan (32), whose bodies were found in a fume-filled car in Castlerock in May 1991.