Double murder trial to go ahead

The double murder trial of dentist Colin Howell and his ex-lover Hazel Stewart will go ahead as planned later this month, a judge said today.

Double murder trial to go ahead

The double murder trial of dentist Colin Howell and his ex-lover Hazel Stewart will go ahead as planned later this month, a judge said today.

Even though psychiatric reports arranged by defence lawyers have still to be completed, Mr Justice Hart said a jury will be sworn in at Coleraine on November 22.

Howell (aged 51) is to undergo a new examination by Professor Nigel Eastman on Monday, a review hearing at Belfast Crown Court heard.

Stewart (aged 47) was tested by another London-based psychiatrist, Dr Gill Mezey, on October 13, but her report has yet to be submitted.

The judge, who is to review progress in the case again next Friday, said Stewart's legal team would have to have it available by Wednesday.

He was also told by her solicitor Stephen Hastings that there were "complexities and difficulties" which had to be attended to.

Stewart, a mother-of-two from Ballystrone Road, Coleraine, has changed senior lawyers. Paul Ramsay QC is now taking instructions, the court heard.

She and Howell, from Glebe Road, Castlerock, are charged with the murders of their respective partners in May 1991.

The bodies of Lesley Howell (aged 31) and Stewart's first husband, Constable Trevor Buchanan (aged 32) were discovered in a car filled with exhaust fumes in a garage behind a rows of houses in Castlerock known as The Apostles, where Mrs Howell's father lived.

He collapsed and died in her house just days earlier.

The trial has been delayed because of a hold up in the submission of the psychiatric reports.

But after hearing Crown claims that the tight schedule might become even tighter, Mr Justice Hart warned today he had no intention of putting it back further. There had been enough time for the defence to resolve the outstanding issues.

The judge said: "The court will not simply allow the defence to dictate progress in the case because of difficulties created by professional witnesses."

Howell, who has been in custody at Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim, since his arrest in January 2009, has already been examined by a number of other psychiatrists. Stewart, a mother-of-two is on bail.

Neither appeared in court today. Constable Buchanan's two sisters, Valerie and Melva, as well as three of his brothers, Victor, Gordon and Jackie, sat in the public gallery.

Howell has already admitted indecently assaulting three women patients at his dental implant clinic in Ballymoney. He has denied assaulting three others.

His second wife Kyle, an American, and mother of their five children, has left the North and started divorce proceedings.

When police first investigated the deaths of Constable Buchanan, 32, and Mrs Howell, 31, they believed they died as a result of some sort of suicide pact. But they launched a murder inquiry after interviewing Howell in Coleraine in January last year.

He and Stewart - she remarried former police Chief Superintendent David Stewart - have pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.

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