TRIAL: Hazel was the honey trap I could not resist

KILLER dentist Colin Howell was trapped in a spider’s web woven by his lover Hazel Stewart which would eventually lead to them murdering his wife and her husband, he told his former mistress’s trial yesterday.

The disgraced one-time Christian preacher denied he had controlled Stewart, even though he drugged her prior to sex and insisted she had seduced him at the outset of their affair.

“Flies go into spiders’ webs because they think there is some food for them there and I willingly went after the bait and we got caught together in the trap,” he said during a dramatic second day in the witness box.

The double killer also said that he hopes the victims of his crimes can forgive him for what he did.

With bereaved relatives sitting only feet away from him in the witness box of a packed Coleraine Crown Court, Howell claimed it would help their own healing process to forgive him.

“I would not ask for their forgiveness as that would be selfish,” he said quietly.

“If anyone chooses to forgive me then that would be a good thing. I don’t think people can truly be healed until they forgive.”

Howell, a professed devout Christian who admitted to the double murder two years ago, was explaining to Stewart’s defence lawyer why he had chosen to give himself up.

She sat with her head down as her one-time lover, whose marriage proposal she turned down four years after the murders, began giving evidence last Tuesday.

Members of the public had arrived at the courthouse two hours ahead of the start of proceedings in the hope of seeing his cross examination – most were left disappointed as the gallery was packed to capacity with relatives.

In response to Paul Ramsey QC’s opening question, Howell, who was transported from Maghaberry Prison, said he decided to take the stand to help the victims obtain closure.

“I set myself up to be a punch bag today for all I did,” he said.

“I am here under great personal shame, I brought disgrace on myself and many other people.”

Howell, dressed in the same grey suit that has marked all his appearances in court, said his confession had opened a wound that needed to be healed.

“I dealt with myself first (by confessing) and I then knew I had opened a wound that other people thought was closed,” he said.

“That was opened by me telling the truth. When a wound is opened a lot of people bleed.”

He added: “Two years after my admission to police and arrest we have come to a point when I believe there are still obstacles in the way of the most important people healing, that’s the victims.”

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

Howell, who is serving a 21-year sentence, 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.

Mr Ramsey asked Howell whether he agreed with a series of adjectives other witnesses had chosen to describe him by.

He agreed that he was outgoing, ambitious, a leader and arrogant.

“My arrogance grew and became a huge problem toward the end, especially before my confession,” he said.

In response to whether he was a ladies’ man and was aware of his attractiveness to the opposite sex he said: “Only in part because behind it all with most beautiful females and handsome men there’s often a great insecurity and low self esteem.”

Howell conceded he had been manipulative, merciless, cold blooded and callous.

“What I did 20 years ago was the pinnacle of being callous and that has been hard to live with. My conscience became so crushed and all the things I had built around that, including my image, couldn’t cope with that.”

But he denied he was psychotic – the assessment of specialist psychiatrist Dr Helen Harbinson who examined him in prison.

“I don’t agree with the conclusion of Helen Harbinson or any of the other psychiatrists,” he said “I believe any human being has potential to do what I did, but I did it – that’s what sets me apart from most of humanity.”