Ulster dentist killed wife and husband of ex-lover
Published 18/11/2010 | 11:44
A Northern Ireland dentist pleaded guilty today to the murders of his wife and the policeman husband of his ex-lover who were first thought to have died in a suicide pact in Northern Ireland almost 20 years ago.
Dr Colin Howell, 51, from Castlerock, Co Londonderry, who has denied the two charges since his arrest last year, changed his plea when he appeared in the dock at Belfast Crown Court.
He admitted murdering his wife and mother-of-four Lesley, 31, and Constable Trevor Buchanan, 32, whose bodies were discovered in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in May 1991.
At the time it was believed the pair had taken their own lives because of their depression over an affair between Howell and the police officer's wife Hazel. But detectives re-opened the investigation in January last year when they interviewed Howell about the deaths.
His former lover, mother-of-two Hazel Stewart, 47, from Ballystrone Road, Coleraine - she later remarried - is due to stand trial next week charged with the two murders.
Howell was told in court that he would be jailed for life with his minimum to be determined at a later hearing.
Howell and his co-accused, as well as their partners, were all members of Coleraine Baptist Church at the time of the deaths. But when he was arrested last year, he was a member of a north Antrim based church group called the Barn Christian Fellowship.
Hazel had been attending Portstewart Baptist Church with her second husband, former police Chief Superintendent David Stewart, once a staff officer to ex-RUC Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley.
As well as the two murders and a series of indecent assaults on some of his women patients, Howell was also questioned about the death of his father-in-law Harry Clarke, 69, an ex-Royal Marine regimental sergeant major and company director, who collapsed and died at Howell's home 12 days before the bodies of his daughter and Constable Buchanan were found.
Howell categorically denied he was responsible. Mr Clarke, who had been suffering from flu and staying in the Howell's spare bedroom, is believed to have had a heart attack in the kitchen of the house at Knocklayde Park, Coleraine.
He was found when the Howells returned home from a night out. Their four children were being looked after by a babysitter. After leaving the army he lived in Scotland, Dublin and then Hillsborough, Co Down before buying a house on the North Coast.
It was in Mr Clarke's garage behind his home in Castlerock - No. 6 in a row of houses, high above the village, known as The Apostles - that the bodies were found by two members of Coleraine Baptist Church, one of them an off duty police officer.
The ignition had been switched on but by the time the missing pair were discovered, the car engine had stopped running.
Constable Buchanan, wearing denim jeans and a sweater was sitting slumped low in the front driver's seat of Howell's seven seater Renault Savanna estate, his right knee in the joint of an open door with its window down.
Mrs Howell was lying on her back in the boot wearing the headset of her personal stereo in which a tape recording of her favourite singer and composer had been inserted. She was wearing dark coloured leggings, a blue T-shirt and white trainers.
Three framed family photographs of herself - one in her student nurse's uniform on the day she graduated - her brother, her father and mother May who died in 1986, were lying beside her. One end of a vacuum cleaner hose had been connected to the car's exhaust pipe and the other placed close to her head. The car's tailgate had been pulled down.
A year after the police launched an investigation, a Coroner's Court inquest said the deaths were suicides, both victims having been poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes. Mrs Howell, born in Plymouth and a former award winning nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, died on her son Daniel's second birthday.
He was in court today - sitting in the public gallery with his sister Lauren and the late Mrs Howell's only brother, Chris, a hospital anaesthetist in Blackpool - to hear his father plead guilty to his mother's murder and the murder of Constable Buchanan, a scenes of crime officer with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Members of Constable Buchanan's family, including his two sisters, Valerie and Malva, and his brothers Gordon, Victor, Raymond, Robert and Jackie, also took their seats in the public gallery for the brief hearing.
Howell's wife Kyle, 44, an American divorcee, is back living in Florida with the couple's five children, and has filed for divorce. She was not in court today. She met Howell in December 1996 when she was a student doing a degree in Irish history at the University of Ulster in Coleraine and living in neighbouring Portstewart, Co. Londonderry with her two children from her first marriage. She married in May the following year and went on to have five children with him.
But soon after Howell's arrest she left Northern Ireland and the couple's luxury home at Glebe Road, Castlerock, where her husband had been detained by investigating officers. He had been living away from the house, staying at a caravan site in the village.
Mrs Howell's US legal representative Dennis Avery of the law firm Avery, Whigham and Winesett in Fort Myers, said: "I have no authorisation to make any comment."
Howell's eldest son Matthew, 22, was killed when he slipped and fell 40ft down a stairwell at an apartment block in St Petersburg, Russia in April 2006. He had been a student at St Andrews University and was on an overseas semester as part of his degree course in Russian, Spanish and international studies.
The Matthew Howell Dissertation prize in international relations is awarded by the university each year.
Howell has admitted indecent assault charges against three of his patients in April and July 2008 at his clinic in Ballymoney. But he has denied 14 others, most of them involving another three women over a 10 year period stretching back to 1998.
That case is expected to be heard after the completion of all legal proceedings connected to the double-murder trial which is due to begin early next week when Mrs Stewart stands in the dock at Coleraine Courthouse. The jury is due to be chosen and sworn in on Wednesday and Thursday.