Colin Howell almost electrocuted his wife Lesley as she relaxed in the bath a short time before he murdered her, it has been revealed.
Lesley’s close friend Margaret Topping told Coleraine Crown Court yesterday that the mother-of-four had mentioned the incident after confiding to her that Howell was having an affair with playschool assistant Hazel Stewart.
Mrs Topping, who met Lesley through Coleraine Baptist Church where they were both members, said her friend told her that Howell dropped an electrical cable into the bath water and she suffered an electric shock, but she was all right.
“She told me almost laughing. She said it was so awful he could not have meant it. But she told me, so that I would know,” she said.
The incident happened after Mrs Howell had given birth to her fourth child Jonathan, who was just four months old when she was killed.
The 31-year-old had confided to Mrs Topping of Howell’s affair with Hazel Stewart.
Mrs Topping said that she had been suspicious after Mrs Howell’s body was discovered in a car alongside the body of Stewart’s husband Trevor Buchanan in an apparent suicide pact.
She told the court that Mrs Howell had also confided in her that Howell had been administering drugs to her.
Mrs Howell also insisted that he would not be getting any money she had inherited from her father’s will because she feared his dental practice was in financial difficulties. She said she had been unable to get any money out of the bank because there was no money there.
“These things made me suspicious. After the deaths I told police about the incidents and the money,” said Mrs Topping.
Her husband, Dr Alan Topping, told the court that not everyone believed Mrs Howell and Mr Buchanan had committed suicide.
He said he raised his concerns with police officer and fellow church member David Green, who had discovered the bodies in a car at the back of Mrs Howell’s father’s house in May 1991.
“A few days after the deaths I met David Green and told him I was suspicious about the deaths. David Green and myself discussed this in our house,” said Dr Topping.
On May 15, a few days before the deaths, Constable Buchanan came to his house to watch a football match, Dr Topping said.
He said that night Mr Buchanan told him that Hazel “was considering the marriage and whether or not it should progress”.
Dr Topping added: “The impression given was that she wanted time out to consider it. Trevor stayed over that night. He was very concerned and upset. He wanted the marriage to continue.
“He wasn't depressed and did not express any intent to harm himself.”
Hazel Stewart bit her lip as one of Lesley Howell’s dearest friends took to the witness box. Margaret Topping appeared nervous as she was called by Crown Prosecutor Ciaran Murphy QC to give her evidence.