A new inquest into the deaths of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan will set the record straight after Northern Ireland's Attorney General said the original verdicts could no longer be regarded as accurate, a coroner's court heard today.
A second hearing will be held in Belfast before the end of next month - 20 years after the two bodies were found in Castlerock, Co Londonderry, in what was then thought to have been a suicide pact.
A year after Mrs Howell, 31, and Mr Buchanan, 32, were discovered in a car on the north coast in May 1991, an inquest ruled the two had taken their own lives as they were emotionally upset because of difficulties in their marriages.
Colin Howell and Mr Buchanan's wife Hazel were having an affair at the time and concocted a cover-up story claiming the pair killed themselves.
But after losing more than £350,000 in a scheme to recover missing gold in the Philippines in December 2008, Howell, a wealthy dentist, returned home and admitted that he has gassed them before stage managing the deaths to make them look like suicides.
Howell, 52, of Glebe Road, Castlerock, is serving a minimum of 21 years, and his accomplice, now known as Hazel Stewart, a 48-year-old mother of two, was sentenced to 18 years after a jury in Coleraine in March convicted her of the two murders.
Sean Doran, counsel for the coroner John Leckey, told a preliminary hearing in Belfast today that because of recent developments the 1992 inquest findings were unsustainable.
It followed a request by Mr Buchanan's brother Gordon to the coroner to have the public record amended. The request was passed on to Mr Leckey.
Mr Doran said: "The Attorney General (John Larkin) responded it is now quite clear, not least as a result of the conviction of two persons for the murder of Mr Buchanan and Mrs Howell, that the original inquest verdict cannot be regarded as accurate."
A separate Police Ombudsman's investigation into the original police investigation will not be prejudiced by a new inquest, Mr Doran told the court.
The original verdict, of carbon monoxide poisoning, was passed in May 1992 after an inquest held by then coroner Robin Hastings. A police investigation was reopened after Howell made his admission, first to the elders of the Barn Christian Fellowship and then to police.
Mr Leckey said: "It is clear from the correspondence from the Attorney General that the Attorney General has taken a view that a new inquest is required to put the record straight. In other words, that there should be formal recognition that two persons were murdered and that they did not take their own lives.
"It would be sufficient if I received evidence from a senior officer involved in the investigation of the murders to enable me to record a verdict including that there is a homicidal background to both deaths.
"It is not the purpose of the coroner's inquest to identify the persons responsible but to reflect the nature of the death, that the deaths were homicidal not suicidal."
He said it would be a short inquest, to be held in Belfast.
Gordon Buchanan thanked the coroner and the Attorney General for reopening the case.
He said: "What the Buchanan family wish is that the record is set straight and that any record is accurate and reflects the truth of what happened.
"The approach that you suggest would be agreeable to us, we believe that as a family we certainly would have no difficulty with that.
Howell's daughter, Lauren Bradford, said the Howell family echoed the views of the Buchanan family.
"It would also be our wish that the record be set straight."
Stewart's daughter Lisa McConnell also spoke during the brief hearing to say she was happy for the new inquest to be held in Belfast.
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Magee said the police had no issues with the coroner's approach.
Adrian Harvey, lawyer for Colin Howell, said he was conducting a watching brief.
A date is still to be set for the second hearing.