Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Dentist 'may be star trial witness'

Hazel Stewart arriving at Antrim Crown Court

A Northern Ireland dentist could be the star witness to testify against his ex-lover who has denied murdering his wife and her former policeman husband, a court has heard.

Dr Colin Howell, 51, who has already been sentenced to life imprisonment for the two killings, has made a new and lengthy statement to investigating police, Antrim Crown Court was told.

Plans to swear in a jury in the case against mother of two Hazel Stewart, 47, had to be adjourned because of the introduction of additional evidence and her trial might be delayed until the new year after her defence lawyer said he did not anticipate the hearing starting before Christmas.

Howell, from Glebe Road, Castlerock, Co Londonderry will be told by the judge, Mr Justice Anthony Hart on Monday the minimum term he will have to serve in at Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co.Antrim, where he has been held since his arrest.

He pleaded guilty to the murders of his wife Lesley, 31, and Stewart's first husband, police officer Trevor Buchanan, 32, whose bodies were found in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in Castlerock in May 1991.

It was first thought the pair died as a result of some suicide pact, but detectives re-opened the investigation after interviewing the dentist last January.

It is understood Howell's new statement to the police runs to 43 pages. His lawyer, Paul Ramsey QC, told the court he would need time to examine it as well as study Howell's medical records, psychiatric reports and video evidence before the trial started. He told the judge: "Clearly if it is intended to use Howell as a prosecution witness he has to be dealt with before that."

Mr Justice Hart said he would set the minimum tariff for Howell on Monday provisionally in Coleraine where the hearing took place.

Stewart didn't speak at any stage during the hearing and was told by the judge she was free to leave the court - but to be back on Monday when the length of Howell's sentence is determined and when Mr Justice Hart will review progress in the case. She has been on bail since her arrest at her home almost two years ago.

The trial has already been held up a number of times because of delays in the submission of psychiatric reports. With the introduction of Howell's new statement and the time which Stewart's defence team, and the prosecution need to study it, there is now a distinct possibility the start of the trial might have to be put back again until next year.

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