TRIAL: Howell denies being psychotic

COLIN Howell denied being a psychopath and claimed anyone could potentially have done what he did.

A specialist psychiatrist who examined the father of 11 in prison after he confessed to poisoning his wife Lesley and his then lover’s husband Trevor Buchanan concluded he was psychotic.

In court Howell rejected the assessment of Helen Harbinson and other medical experts about his mental state.

He claimed they examined him when he was experiencing a mental breakdown in Maghaberry high security jail subsequent to his arrest in 2009.

“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.”

Howell said the breakdown of his relationship with his children and second wife Kyle, who had left him and moved to America, caused him to unravel in prison.

“I believe it would be described as a nervous breakdown,” he told defence lawyer Paul Ramsey QC.

“The impact of the arrest, there was a huge amount of stress after being arrested and media publicity.

“But the thing that was hardest, the key reason I went into a mental breakdown, if that’s what it’s called, in prison, and what Dr Harbinson identified as some mental illness, and was put in the prison hospital – the reason was the loss of relationship with my children and wife who have now gone to America.”

Indicating that he had recovered from the breakdown, Howell claimed that two years on he was in a “different mental, physical, emotional and spiritual state”.

The court heard that Howell drugged Hazel Stewart before they had sex as an experiment to see if he could do the same with his patients, according to a prison psychiatrist.

Dr Helen Harbinson, who examined Howell inside Maghaberry jail said this was his part of the explanation he offered for gassing and injecting his mistress with sedatives before intercourse.

After the expert’s report was quoted by Stewart’s defence lawyer at Coleraine Crown Court, Howell admitted to drugging the mother-of-two during their turbulent six-year relationship and to sexually assaulting three patients in his practice in Ballymoney as they emerged from sedation.

But he denied he used laughing gas and, on one occasion, injected anaesthetic on Stewart prior to sex to find out what he could do to patients.

Howell, who also revealed he had a nine-month sexual relationship with an unnamed staff member at his practice during his second marriage in 2005, pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting the three unnamed female patients at Antrim Crown Court last year.

However, he claimed he used the drugs on his lover to help her assuage the guilt she experienced having sex with him after the double murder of her husband Trevor Buchanan and his wife Lesley.

“The experiment was would Hazel and I be able to have a sexual encounter and not feel guilt,” he said.

Stewart’s lawyer Paul Ramsey QC asked him to clarify: “So you were not using Hazel Buchanan as a guinea pig for experimentation with other patients?”

Howell said he was in the middle of a nervous breakdown when he was assessed by Dr Harbinson.

“I was very mentally sick at the time and saying things I did not remember,” he said.

But he insisted he had not claimed to be experimenting with Stewart with a mind to his patients.

“That is nothing like what I said,” he added.

Howell said both he and Stewart experienced guilt after sex.

And in the run-up to the inquests of their spouses a year after their 1991 deaths, he claimed that was coupled with fear about being caught over the murders.

He said they then started to limit the extent of their sexual encounters.

“It was part of a twisted Christian, spiritual logic that maybe if we didn’t have full sex maybe we wouldn’t get caught at the inquests,” he explained.

Howell said they cast doubt on what constituted full sex, but he conceded that looking back he now considered what they were doing was intercourse.

Howell said he used the drugs to help Stewart cope with the guilt. He claimed she liked how they made her feel and had taken them willingly for most of their time together. But he said as their relationship deteriorated – after she rejected his marriage proposal in 1995 – she started being more resistant.

“I would try and talk her into it,” he said.

He said he administered the drugs in his dental surgery on all but one occasion. Howell said they stopped using drugs altogether when Stewart reacted badly to a dose and experienced a frightening hallucination in which she imagined she was jumping out of the window of his surgery.

He went on to outline how, years later, he had indecently assaulted the three patients, referred to in court as patients S and K and L.

The dentist claimed none of the patients had referred the episodes to police and he confessed to them voluntarily as part of his “journey” to redemption.