House of horror: Outrage at tourist plan to cash in on murderous duo Howell and Stewart
Former mayor sparks outrage by suggesting that 'murder tour' may be a good idea
Notorious killer Colin Howell's house could become a major tourist attraction, it has been claimed.
A suggestion by a politician that the murders carried out by Howell and his mistress Hazel Stewart could entice tourists to the area in the same way as Game of Thrones, has been met with anger.
Former Mayor of Coleraine Sam Cole said that coach loads of tourists could soon be flocking to the north coast to follow the murderous footsteps of Howell and Stewart.
The murder tour could include scenes made famous by the recent ITV series The Secret, including Howell's Coleraine home where he confessed to murder and the Castlerock cottage where their victims' bodies were discovered, Mr Cole said.
Howell and Stewart are both serving life sentences for the murder of their spouses, Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, in Coleraine in 1991. At the time police believed they died in a suicide pact in a garage in Castlerock.
The truth of what happened was kept secret until 2009 when Howell, a dentist and a former lay preacher, confessed to church elders and then to police.
Mr Cole, a DUP councillor at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, said that the television drama about the murders, The Secret, had reignited major interest in the case and that visitors would be keen to visit the scenes depicted in the dramatisation. His controversial comments have sparked outrage, with fellow politicians warning of the impact a murder tourist trail would have on the families of Howell and Stewart's victims.
Last month the families said they had been left traumatised by the television series.
Howell's daughter Lauren Bradford accused the makers of The Secret of exploiting their tragedy for entertainment.
"The murder-bereaved do not deserve to have their voices ignored and their stories trivialised," she said at the time.
Last night Mr Cole insisted that he was not promoting "murder tourism" and said he sympathised with the victims' families. However he added that it would be "naive" to think that the scenes would not be an attraction to tourists.
He first described Howell's house as a potential "focal point for tourism" during a recent Council planning meeting.
He was responding to a planning decision to reject an application from a constituent to build on land at Glebe Road - close to where Howell had lived with his second wife before he confessed to the murders - on the grounds that there was no "focal point" close by.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Cole admitted such tourism could be hurtful to the victims' families, but insisted that The Secret had generated a lot of interest in the local area. "I don't support murder tourism but I am a pragmatist. In Belfast there are a lot of people who want to see where crimes were committed. People want to see this type of thing. It is human nature. They want to see macabre places," said Mr Cole.
He added: "Look at what Game of Thrones did for tourism. I can see the same thing with this case. I would not rule out the possibility of tour coaches driving up to Colin Howell's old house to see where he made his infamous confession to church elders. The TV series reawakened a whole lot of interest in the case."
Mr Cole admitted that the Howell and Buchanan families had been distressed by the TV series but claimed it would be "very naive to not consider the possibility that this could create a lot of tourism interest".
"It is logical to suggest it could become a tourist attraction. I would be very sympathetic towards the victims, it is still very raw for them, but the TV series went ahead and there is now a lot of public interest in the case. We are where we are and it has to be taken into account that there is a big public interest in this. It was almost the perfect crime," he continued.
"We promote tourism in the north coast. Tourism is the key economic drive going forward. If this was proposed by some tour companies I wouldn't object to it or support it. It is not for me to condone or object to tourism of this form."
However, fellow councillor Joan Baird accused Mr Cole of being insensitive to Howell and Stewart's victims.
"I think that was a ridiculous thing to say. I don't think people are interested in that sort of tourism at all. It was a very insensitive thing by councillor Cole to say," the UUP woman said.
She added: "My thoughts are with the young people who are trying to get on with their lives. It is absolute nonsense to suggest these scenes could become big attractions for tourists."
Sinn Fein councillor Tony McCaul said murder tourism should not be encouraged.
"I think it would be terrible if anyone should promote that sort of thing. Families are still grieving over this. It would be dreadful for this to be promoted in any way," he said.