21-year sentence for killer dentist
A ruthless dentist who murdered his wife and ex-lover's policeman husband as they slept and then covered it up as a double suicide has been jailed for a minimum of 21 years.
Colin Howell, 51, from Glebe Road, Castlerock, Co Londonderry, was told by Mr Justice Anthony Hart at Belfast Crown Court that he had committed truly heinous crimes and showed no mercy to two defenceless victims.
Last month he was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to poisoning his wife Lesley, 31, the mother of their four children, and Pc Trevor Buchanan, 32, husband of the woman with whom he had been having an affair at the time in May 1991.
The dentist killed both in their respective homes in Coleraine on one night when he attached part of a baby's feeding bottle to a garden hose to poison them with carbon monoxide fumes from a car.
Mr Buchanan's wife Hazel, 47, a mother-of-two from Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, Co Derry, who later re-married taking the name Stewart, is due to stand trial next February for the two murders. She denies the two charges.
Howell's crimes only came to light two years ago when he confessed his dark secret to elders in his church and then police. Including time already served in prison, he will not be considered for release until 2029.
Mr Justice Hart said each murder was carried out while the victim was asleep and defenceless - Mrs Howell on the sofa and Mr Buchanan in his bed. Both woke as the fumes started to overcome them, but Howell overpowered each of them before allowing the deadly gas to finally kill them.
Howell, dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and striped tie, gave no reaction as the sentence was handed down. Earlier he bowed his head and closed his eyes as the judge described how he had killed each of his victims.
Mr Justice Hart said there were many aggravating factors which required a heavy sentence, among them the fact that it was a double murder and that Howell benefited to the tune of £414,000 from his wife's death. Two innocent people were murdered and six children deprived of the love of their mother and father, he added.
The judge said this pain was intensified because the families had to live with the false belief that their loved ones had died in a suicide pact - an extra burden Howell let them bear for almost 20 years. "He is an intelligent man who knew exactly what he was doing throughout," the judge continued. He said that, had Howell not confessed to his guilt, he could have sentenced him to a minimum of 28 years.