KILLER dentist Colin Howell apologised to women patients he attacked in his surgery as he pleaded guilty to nine charges of indecent assault just moments before he was due to stand trial.
In a dramatic development at Antrim Crown Court last Tuesday, the convicted double murderer changed his plea on nine of 14 counts involving four women.
As the first charge was read to him, with a number of his victims sitting yards away in the public gallery, the former lay preacher spoke from the dock in a low and cracked voice.
“Guilty and I am sorry,” he said.
The 52-year-old, who was jailed for life last year after confessing to murdering his wife and his ex-lover’s husband, again apologised and admitted his guilt as the charges relating to three of his other patients were read out.
Some of his victims, who were in court to give evidence, wept and embraced relatives as Howell was led back to the cells at the end of the brief hearing.
Six women had claimed Howell attacked them at his Ballymoney practice in a 10-year period from March 1998 to December 2008.
Last year, he admitted assaulting three patients on three occasions in his surgery.
Two of those three women alleged he attacked them more than once and those charges, along with claims filed by three other women – 14 counts in total – were due to be contested in the trial in Antrim.
While Howell has now admitted to 12 of 17 charges involving five patients, an alleged assault against the sixth woman will remain on the books, as will four other charges related to additional allegations made by two of the five women he has confessed to assaulting.
Last year the dentist was sentenced to life in prison, with a 21-year minimum term, after admitting he murdered his wife, Lesley, and Trevor Buchanan, the policeman husband of his then lover, Hazel Stewart, in Coleraine in May 1991.
Stewart, 48, was also convicted of the double murder, which police believed for 19 years was suicide, after standing trial earlier this year. She is serving an 18-year minimum life term.
The bodies of Mrs Howell and Mr Buchanan were found in a car in a fume-filled garage in the seaside town of Castlerock.
The dentist had staged the scene after poisoning the pair with gas piped from his car exhaust as they slept in their own homes in nearby Coleraine.
A jury of six men and six women was sworn in on Monday ahead of the anticipated start of his indecent assault trial.
But at the beginning of proceedings yesterday, Howell’s lawyer, Richard Weir QC, told the court his client wanted to be re-arraigned on nine of the 14 charges.
Judge Corine Philpott told the dentist, who was wearing a grey suit and navy striped tie, to stand as the counts were read to him.
He admitted his guilt to all nine.
Crown lawyer Neil Connor said the remaining five counts would be left on the books.
The judge then dismissed the jury and set a hearing for next Wednesday for pre-sentencing legal applications to be made.