Second inquest on Howell/Stewart murder victims

A new inquest into the deaths of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan will set the record straight after their partners were jailed for their murders, a coroner’s court hearing in the North was told today.

A new inquest into the deaths of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan will set the record straight after their partners were jailed for their murders, a coroner’s court hearing in the North was told today.

A second hearing will take place before the end of next month, about 20 years after their bodies were found in an apparent suicide pact.

The pair were found gassed in a car on the north coast in May 1991 and the original inquest ruled they had taken their own lives.

Dentist Colin Howell and Sunday school teacher Hazel Stewart have recently been convicted of their murders.

Gordon Buchanan, brother of one of the victims, told the Belfast inquest preliminary: “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.”

Howell, 52, and Stewart, 48, concocted a story at the inquest which covered up the truth that they murdered their spouses.

Howell used a hosepipe attached to a car exhaust to gas the pair while they slept at their homes in Coleraine, Co Derry. He then drove them to a garage in Castlerock where they were later found.

Stewart did nothing to stop him as he arrived to kill her husband.

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 also spoke during the brief hearing to say she was happy for the new inquest to be held in Belfast.

The original verdict, of carbon monoxide poisoning, was passed in May 1992 after the inquest held by then coroner Robin Hastings heard the elaborate story concocted by Howell.

A police investigation was reopened after he admitted his guilt in 2009. He has been told he must serve at least 21 years in prison.

Stewart contested her guilt and was given a minimum of 18 years after a jury convicted her in March this year.

Coroner John Leckey raised the matter with Attorney General John Larkin, who ordered the fresh inquest on April 8 this year.

Mr Leckey said it was clear from the correspondence that the Attorney General had taken the view that a new inquest was required to put the record straight so there could be formal recognition that two people were murdered and 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,” the coroner said.

“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, which will be held in Belfast.

Mr Buchanan said the approach which he outlined would be agreeable. Mrs Bradford echoed his comments.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Magee said the police had no issues with the coroner’s approach.

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