TRIAL: Murder seed planted after bath incident

COLIN Howell denied that he tried to electrocute his wife as she had a bath – but admitted the thought crossed his mind as he held an electric cable in his hand during a bitter argument over his cheating ways.

It happened in April 1991, just weeks before he murdered wife Lesley and Constable Trevor Buchanan when their marriage was in deep crisis.

He had been using an electric drill to put up a curtain in the bathroom at their home at Knocklayde Park, Coleraine.

His wife had chosen the material and when he returned with the curtain rail from a B&Q store – he had taken their four children with him – a row broke out after she challenged him about his whereabouts, why he had taken too long, and if he had been in contact again with his lover Hazel Stewart.

He told Coleraine Crown Crown he stopped working with the curtain rail when his wife decided to run a bath for herself. He disconnected the drill from the extension lead, and fed and put the children down after reading them bedtime stories.

The court heard Lesley wanted to listen to some music on a cassette while she was having the bath. The argument about his infidelity had been going on all afternoon and Howell said he wanted her to shut up.

He said there was a lot of tension. He genuinely had not been in contact with Hazel that day, but his wife did not believe him.

He told how he brought a cassette player into the bathroom and he was about to connect it. He said Lesley looked at him, there was a pregnant pause and he detected that during the argument the power had shifted from his wife to him.

Howell said he showed Lesley the plug. He stood up and at that moment he flicked it across her back, dropped it onto the floor and walked out.

Howell told the court: “It was a thought. It was a moment where I wanted Lesley to realise there had been a shift of power from Lesley to me. She did not get an electrical shock. I did not want to do it, but the seed had been planted. I began to believe that I can do something about it.”

Later, under cross-examination by defence lawyer Paul Ramsey, he said: “Lesley saw something in me at that moment that I could kill her, and she was right about that.”

The court heard that Lesley later told one of her friends, Margaret Topping, that she had suffered an electric shock in the bath. But Howell categorically denied he tried to kill his wife.

Howell speculated his wife told Mrs Topping she suffered an electric shock in case anything subsequently happened to her.

“She said she got a shock because if ever Lesley died, her friends would go to police with the incident,” he suggested.

“I think Lesley was building up protection for the future.”

Asked by Mr Ramsey if his wife “feared for her life” from that moment, he replied: “I believe she recognised in me that I had the capability to kill her.”

He said the episode was an attempt to regain control, something he had lost to his wife since his affair had been discovered.

The theme of control was one he returned to repeatedly under questioning.

“The women in my life control me because of the adultery I have had,” he said of both Lesley and his second wife Kyle, whom he cheated on as well.

He said facts ran totally contrary to the defence’s claim, made in court last Tuesday, that he was the controller in relationships.