COLIN Howell was within hours of owning up to police in 1998 about the murders of his wife Lesley and Trevor Buchanan, he claimed in court.
After first revealing his guilt to his second wife Kyle, two years after they married, he made arrangements to bring the two families together at a hotel, make his confession and then hand himself over to the authorities.
But he told the jury in Coleraine last Tuesday that he underwent a “religious conviction” after meeting a girl at a Sunday night church service where he claimed she told him: “Colin, all your sins have been forgiven and forgotten by God.”
He and his wife decided to keep it secret for the sake of their children.
He married his second wife, a divorcee with two children, in May 1997. She had been through a difficult and abusive marriage in the United States before coming to live in Northern Ireland with her children.
Howell met her at a Bible study class. He had four children from his first marriage and the couple went on to have another five.
Howell said he wanted to tell Kyle about the deaths of his first wife and Mr Buchanan because he realised he had deceived her. He told the court he wanted to be fair to her and for a week he thought about it.
He said he explained to Kyle the difficulties in his first marriage and the fact that Lesley Howell had abortions. He said she was shocked by his revelations and told him: “You have to go to the police.”
He told the court Kyle promised to stand by him, visit him in prison and look after the children until he got out.
He said he also took measures to sell his dental practice in Scotland and approached two individuals. Although they had not indicated they would definitely buy it, steps had been taken to sell. It was part of his plans to set up a financial base for his wife and children.
Kyle’s parents were due to fly in from America in September that year and he decided he would call the two families together as well as his church elders.
He made a reservation at the Burrendale Hotel in Newcastle where he said he planned to make his confession before being arrested and going to jail.
Howell said he was to meet his mother and father that Saturday night, but he got a telephone call from his father telling him that he (his father) had agreed to stand in for a preacher the following night, and would be staying at home in Portadown.
Howell said he went to his own church that Sunday and while he was there a girl spoke to him and said: “Colin, I just don’t know why I am telling you this but your sins are forgiven and forgotten by God.”
Howell said he spoke with Kyle and talked about the disruption it would cause to the house if he confessed. They agreed it would be best if it was left in the past.
He told the court: “I felt hugely relieved. There was no enforcement.”
Howell said he wanted to be true to Kyle, but had not told her anything before they were married.
He said he had spoken to her about it a number of time before his confession in 2009. When he discussed his first wife and the children, she knew there was something the children did not know about. Howell said he sometimes wondered whether the children thought they had been abandoned by their mother.
Kyle, he said, always knew more than the children and sometimes she would suggest that there might be another time it might arise when he would have to go to the police.
He said he did not convince Kyle not to go to the police. The process of confession which led to his arrest began in December 2008. Kyle was angry with him and he had moved out of the house to a caravan. She told him: “It is your fault. You have to go to the police.”
He agreed with Paul Ramsey QC, the defence lawyer, that he had influenced his wife who had trusted him. But he said he had also betrayed her, and broken that trust.
He first confessed to the church elders, Andrew Brown, Graham Sterling and Willie Patterson.
In the days beforehand, Howell said he had wanted to confess. He said he told his wife: “This is the time to go back to what happened 18 years ago.”
Howell said his wife was shocked – she was not ready for him to confess. Then, on Thursday, January 28, 2009, she told him: “Colin, today is the day.”
Howell said it did not feel like the right moment for him. He said he probably wanted another day to work it out, but Kyle said: “No, this is the moment.”