Northern Ireland

Killer dentist Howell to serve 21 years for murders

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

Killer dentist Colin Howell has been sentenced to a minimum term of 21 years for murdering his wife and his former lover's husband in Castlerock, Northern Ireland in 1991.

On Friday Belfast Crown Court heard he must serve the minimum tariff before he can be considered for release.

Howell, 51, from Castlerock, pleaded guilty to the double murders.

The bodies of Lesley Howell, 31, and Trevor Buchanan, 32, were found in a car full of exhaust fumes in 1991.

It was initially thought that they had died in a suicide pact.

In sentencing Howell Mr Justice Hart said he had carried out "truly heinous crimes".

He described the "the cold blooded, carefully planned and ruthlessly executed double murder of two people who Howell saw as standing in the way of his adulterous desire to be with Hazel Buchanan (Stewart)".

"Each murder was carried out when the victim was asleep and thus entirely defenceless," he said.

"Even when they stirred in their sleep, Howell did not draw back and spare their lives, but physically subdued their faint signs of approaching consciousness, thereby ensuring their deaths," the judge added.

In his summary Mr Justice Hart said two innocent people were murdered and six children deprived of the love of their mother or their father.

"The reputations of their innocent parents, who had already been wronged by Mr Howell, were further stigmatised by the false implication that they had taken their own lives in a suicide pact".

Mr Justice Hart said he had read victim impact statements from two of Mr Howell's children, from Lesley Howell's brother, and from members of Trevor Buchanan's family which showed that many lives had been gravely affected for many years by the murders.

The court was also told that, while the prosecution accept that Mr Howell was not motivated by money when he committed the murders, he had been in financial difficulties at the time and profited financially from his wife's death.


Mr Howell inherited her estate and that of her father who had died a few days before, as well as receiving the proceeds of a number of insurance policies.

As a result he received various sums amounting to just over £414,000.

At the outset Mr Justice Hart clarified that Mrs Stewart had pleaded not guilty to both counts of murder. Her trial is due to begin on 7 February 2011.

He said that Mrs Stewart accepted she and Mr Howell were engaged in an adulterous relationship for some time prior to the murders, and that it continued on for several years before each of them subsequently remarried.

Mrs Stewart disputed the intensity of their relationship after the murders.

The judge said he did not propose to refer to her alleged role in the events leading up to, and during the murders, as this will have to be considered by the jury during the trial.

Mr Justice Hart considered it was not necessary to await the outcome Mrs Stewart's trial before fixing the minimum term which Howell must serve, as admissions had clearly set out his role.

On Monday, Belfast Crown Court was told how Lesley Howell called out to her six-year-old son, Matthew, as her husband gassed her.

Details of how Mr Buchanan struggled with his killer before becoming overcome with fumes were also made public.

The case was re-opened last year when Howell handed himself in at a police station.

The court heard that he kept the secret for almost 20 years before eventually confessing to detectives after losing more than £350,000 in a bid to find missing gold in the Philippines - a project which turned out to be a scam.

Howell, a father of 10, was a highly-acclaimed dentist and a lay-preacher.

The court was told that in recent years Howell had "realised he was a fake" and wanted to be "real", and that is why he confessed to the police.

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