COLIN Howell emphatically denied he controlled his lover – even when he drugged her to have secret sex after he claimed she cooperated in the two murders.
He told the jury at Coleraine Crown Court: “Hazel and I were waltzing together, in time. All the side-stepping was done together. I was not dragging her around the floor. I may have been the lead partner in that dance, but she was doing it in perfect harmony and willingly.”
The jury of nine men and three women also heard claims by the dentist that he had been so overwhelmed by guilt during police interviews following his arrest by detectives in January 2009, that he would have agreed to anything, including the murders of JFK and the fictional JR Ewing of TV Dallas fame.
He said: “I would have admitted to them because of my mental state of mind and my emotions at the time.”
He even thought he was jinxed by death because he believed he had in some way been responsible for the deaths of 10 people he knew and who died through various illnesses.
Howell said: “I had disconnected from reality when I was giving those interviews. I was agreeing with everything. I was trying to find true remorse and contrition and I would agree with anything.”
He told Mr Justice Hart that he and Hazel Stewart held a dark secret because of the killings. He had control of the information which made him manipulative and deceitful, but he did not believe he was a controlling person. He said he had never believed he controlled women in his life.
He said there was legitimate control and illegitimate control. He had the right to have legitimate control over his children, to tell them when to be home at night. Otherwise society or situations would break down.
Having made a confession to the church elders of the Barn Fellowship just before he handed himself in, Howell told the court he found himself in the same situation when he was interviewed by the police.
He said he would have agreed to anything and was not in a state of mind to challenge the police. He told the jury he was trying to discover who he was because at the time he was a complete fraud.
He said: “I am very intelligent, but I completely lost my marbles after being arrested. My mental health deteriorated very rapidly, but I am in a much better situation now.”
Howell said he intended to tell the truth when he was questioned by detectives in the days following his detention. He was in the mould of agreeing everything the police were saying about claims of his controlling nature.
He added: “The police were overbearing. They were doing their job, they did it professionally, did it very well. But I was crushed by the police interviews...”
When Howell was asked by Hazel Stewart’s defence lawyer, Paul Ramsey QC, about his claims to police that he believed her to be vulnerable, easily led, intellectually not on his level and probably easy to control, Howell replied: “I wanted to carry a lot of the guilt from Hazel. I wanted to take full responsibility for what I had done without blaming anyone else. I knew I was the mastermind behind the plot and the plan.
“I was the one who had intelligence to put the plan together. There is no doubt about it that proportionally I am the major person in the crime. I have never doubted that. At that time, if I had been able to take all the blame I would have done that.
“But in the last two years it has dawned on me Hazel is not my responsibility. There is a bigger picture. She based herself as an innocent victim.
“I would describe Hazel as an advertisement for an orphanage in India. You see a picture of a child with a tear drop in your eye and you just want to get your wallet out. But I have been to India twice and I know often behind those children there are two businessmen putting the money in their pockets.”
During the interviews, Howell said he was trying to carry the burden of responsibility but there was guile, deception and willingness. He was in control in one area, Hazel controlling in another. He said: “Hazel made her own choices and has to take responsibility for that.”
Howell confirmed he had drugged his lover to have sex. He agreed with Mr Ramsey it was a form of control, but said she was a willing participant.
He told the court he gave her laughing gas (gas and air) eight to 10 times after the murders and perhaps did so before as well, but could not be sure.
He said: “It was something Hazel had fun with. She did it voluntarily. It is not control. Hazel liked it, wanted it. It did change towards the end of the relationship. It is why it ended.”
Howell was then asked about his admission to police that Stewart wanted to escape the relationship. He said he did not have full insight and did not see everything. He said he manipulated many things and he took full responsibility for that.
But he claimed, following his mental breakdown in prison, he could see things more clearly. He said the last thing he wanted to do was to make things worse for Stewart, but he had not forced her to have the abortion, she initiated the desire to have it.
Howell said he took the major responsibility for the murders, but told the court: “Hazel wanted it. I facilitated it. Murder? I wanted it. Hazel facilitated it.”
Stewart had lied to him, he claimed, lied to Pastor John Hansford and lied to Trevor McAuley, but he said she had wanted the relationship to continue. After a four-month break in the affair, he claimed Stewart was just as relieved as he was that they were communicating again.
Howell said he wanted to be truthful to the court and insisted Stewart did not object to the principle of the plan which he put to her.
But he said if Stewart was saying today that she did not want to do it, that was different to the communication she gave to him in 1991.
He said: “I understood clearly that Hazel not only cooperated, but bought in and did not object in principle.”
Howell was asked by Mr Ramsey if he was puppet-master to all the women in his life, including Stewart.
He replied: “Only if I had legitimate authority. Not if I had illegal authority. I was a very selfish person. I am not denying any part of the bad character I had. I had been an extremely selfish person. I am not going to deny that.”