Belfast Telegraph

Killer dentist Colin Howell: The murders that shocked Northern Ireland to be turned into major TV drama

Speculation is rife James Nesbitt will be cast as evil Ballmoney dentist Colin Howell

By Ivan Little

TV bosses in England are meeting to discuss plans to produce a blockbuster drama about the horrific murders carried out by secret lovers Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart over 20 years ago. And there's speculation that local actor Jimmy Nesbitt could land the role of the evil Ballymoney dentist.

A top English film and television director is having talks with ITV executives this afternoon to pitch his proposal to bring the Baptist couple's shocking killing spree to the television screen.

Stuart Urban, who won a Bafta for his 1993 dramatisation of the Falklands War - An Ungentlemanly Act - has been in negotiations with veteran Belfast journalist Deric Henderson, who wrote a bestselling book about the murders called Let This Be Our Secret.

Urban said yesterday in a tweet: "Preparing my pitch Thurs to ITV network drama brass for my adaptation of Deric Henderson's great true crime book." Mr Henderson confirmed last night that Jimmy Nesbitt, who is currently winning rave reviews for a number of hit TV dramas including The Missing and Babylon, has expressed an interest in portraying 55-year-old Colin Howell.

Howell and 51-year-old Stewart are serving life sentences for the murders of their respective spouses Lesley Howell (31) and Trevor Buchanan (32) in May 1991.

The Ballymoney dentist and lay preacher gassed his wife and the RUC husband of his mistress and made it look like they died in a suicide pact in Castlerock after they discovered their partners were having an affair.

Police never suspected the truth, and it was only 19 years later that they reopened their investigation after Howell coolly walked into a police station and confessed to the murders, naming Stewart as his accomplice. Ever since Howell and Stewart were jailed, there's been intense speculation that a film or TV drama would be made.

"It has all in the ingredients of a remarkable drama," said a TV insider.

"It's a gripping story of sex, lies and betrayal, especially as Howell and Stewart were involved in a tryst under the very noses of their fellow Christians in a Baptist church.

"And it's made all the more intriguing by the fact that if Howell hadn't admitted what he did and subsequently testified against his former lover, then he and Stewart would still be walking free today."

Producers also believe that Hazel Stewart's involvement in the killings and her insistence that she was innocent - even when she was ordered to serve a minimum 18-year jail term - would increase interest among women viewers.

Another element which would heighten any potential drama is Howell's abuse of female patients in his dental surgery.

In May 2011, Howell, who was ordered to serve at least 21 years behind bars for the murders, was sentenced to another five-and-a half-years' imprisonment for indecently assaulting a number of women while they were under sedation.

It's understood that Nesbitt is the director's first choice for the part of Howell and the actor has already said he's drawn to the role, not only because of what happened but also because the bodies were found in Castlerock, only a few miles from his family home.

Mr Henderson also confirmed that he has already met with Nesbitt and taken him on a tour of the murder scenes in Coleraine and the north coast.

Colin Howell killed wife Leslie and the husband of his lover Hazel Stewart, police officer Trevor Buchanan, and made it look like a suicide pact between lovers. The bodies were found in a fume-filled car in Castlerock in May 1991. Howell confessed to church elders, who urged him to inform police and he pleaded guilty in 2010. Stewart was also jailed for murder.

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