Northern Ireland

Case that shook community to its core

Colin Howell pleaded guilty to two murders
Image caption Colin Howell pleaded guilty to two murders

It is almost two years since the tiny coastal community of Castlerock was shaken to its core.

Many people living there recalled the deaths of 32-year-old RUC constable Trevor Buchanan and mother-of-four Lesley Howell in the village in 1991.

They had been found dead in a fume-filled car and shortly afterwards a coroner's court ruled that both had killed themselves.

However, in February 2009, events in another courtroom completely turned that narrative on its head.

Appearing separately in a dock in nearby Coleraine were Dr Colin Howell, a well-known dentist in the area, and Hazel Stewart.

They were charged with the murders of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan, their respective partners at the time.


He was remanded to Maghaberry prison and suspicion began to surround Howell over other deaths.

In March 2009, police said they were re-examining the death of 27-year-old Alexandra Hickman-Smith, whose family had originally been told she had died from diabetes and that it was not being treated as suspicious.

She had been living at the same caravan site as Howell for a time in 2008.

Detectives also looked again at the death of Lesley Howell's father, Henry Clarke, who died five days before his daughter's death - apparently from a heart attack or a seizure.

As part of the new probes a lake and the grounds of a house in Castlerock were searched.

In the end, police said they would not be taking further action in either case.

On Thursday 18 November, Howell, 51, pleaded guilty to the murders of Mr Buchanan and his former wife Lesley.

He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 21 years.