Howell: Murdered wife was a bad mother

KILLER dentist Colin Howell claimed the wife he murdered was a bad mother who he once found drunk and unconscious, lying in vomit, when she should have been looking after their four children.

The double murderer, who poisoned wife Lesley and his lover’s husband Trevor Buchanan, said his marital home was always messy and that she would “fire the kids” at him when he came back from work.

Taking the witness stand at Coleraine Crown Court for the third day in the trial of his former mistress Hazel Stewart, the one-time Christian preacher was asked to describe the state of his marriage prior to the murders.

“I came home from work one day and Lesley had drunk too much wine and was unconscious on the floor and had vomited,” he told the jury.

“I thought it was blood at first, but it was red wine and Daniel (his son) was standing holding a half-full bottle of milk.”

Weeks after this incident Howell gassed his wife and Stewart’s policeman husband Mr Buchanan, before making it look like they had died in a bizarre suicide pact. He confessed to the May 1991 crimes to elders in his church nearly two decades later and has since been sentenced to 21 years for the two murders.

Stewart, 47, from Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, denies she was part of a joint enterprise with Howell to kill their spouses.

Again she sat impassively in the dock, dressed in a plum coat, as Howell delivered his testimony on a second day of cross-examination.

Her defence barrister, Paul Ramsey QC, quoted sections of an interview the dentist had with prison psychiatrist Dr Helen Harbinson following his arrest in 2009 in which he claimed Mrs Howell was a bad mother.

“Lesley did little or no housework, the house was always messy and she slopped about,” Mr Ramsey quoted.

Asked whether the account he provided to the medical expert was correct, Howell, dressed in his familiar grey suit, agreed. But he insisted he had not intended to discredit his late wife.

He said while the incident in which she collapsed drunk was “quite regular” in the months prior to the murders, it had only started happening after she discovered his infidelity with Stewart. “Before the affair she wasn’t like that,” he said.

“That one incident, to me, was a point that I realised I had caused her so much pain and distress, I acknowledged it was me who had done it to her.

“She just couldn’t cope with the pain I had caused with the affair.”

But aside from the alcohol fuelled problems toward the end, Howell claimed throughout their marriage his wife was untidy and left him to get the children up in the morning while she stayed in bed.

The bodies of Mrs Howell, 31, and Mr Buchanan, 32, were found in a fume-filled garage in the seaside town of Castlerock, near Coleraine.

Howell had poisoned them with carbon monoxide piped from his car as they slept in their own homes, then set up a scene to look as though they had taken their own lives because they could not cope with his and Stewart’s affair.

The dentist talked about how his eight-year marriage steadily “crumbled”, in part due to the pain of her three abortions prior to their wedding in 1983.

The devout Christians chose to terminate the unborn children as they did not want to admit to having sex before marriage.

Mr Ramsey persisted with his line of questioning.

“She was worth more to you dead than alive basically, wasn’t that right?” he asked.

Howell responded: “That was not the motive the behind it, it wasn’t considered.”

He added that he was under the impression life insurance wouldn’t be paid out because the death was being treated as suicide.

The dentist claimed only when his brother-in-law noticed an exemption clause in the policy did he realise he was in line for the money. The disgraced dentist put it to Mr Ramsey that if he was suggesting he was in it for the money, he was by consequence suggesting Stewart was too.

The lawyer vehemently denied that.

“This has nothing to do with Hazel,” he said.

Howell shot back: “But this trial is about Hazel.”

Mr Howell also told the trial he had another affair behind his wife Lesley’s back before he embarked on his torrid relationship with Ms Stewart.

He told Coleraine Crown Court he had a fling with another woman a year prior to that. Howell admitted he had an extra-marital relationship with a woman he worked with at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Yesterday Howell also revealed that he had a sexual relationship with a member of staff at his dental practice 14 years after the murders while he was married to his second wife Kyle.

He is giving evidence against his former lover Stewart, who denies murdering Mrs Howell and Mr Buchanan as part of a joint enterprise with him.

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