Nesbitt: I’ll play killer Howell

Double killer dentist Colin Howell. Alan Lewis -
Double killer dentist Colin Howell. Alan Lewis -

James Nesbitt is being lined up to play double killer Colin Howell in a sensational new TV drama based on the Castlerock murders.

Director Stuart Urban revealed on Twitter that he was in talks with ITV executives last week to produce a series based on the murders carried out by dentist Colin Howell and his lover Hazel Stewart 23 years ago.

Acclaimed actor James Nesbitt. ''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography

Acclaimed actor James Nesbitt. ''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography

Urban, who won a Bafta for his 1993 dramatisation of the Falklands War - An Ungentlemanly Act - has been in negotiations with veteran Belfast journalist Deric Henderson, who wrote a bestselling book about the infamous murders called Let This Be Our Secret.

In a tweet Urban revealed: “Preparing my pitch Thurs to ITV network drama brass for my adaptation of Deric Henderson’s great true crime book.”

Mr Henderson confirmed that Jimmy Nesbitt, who is currently winning rave reviews for a number of hit TV dramas including The Missing and Babylon, has expressed an interest in portraying 55-year-old Colin Howell who ran a dental surgery in Ballymoney.

The author confirmed that he has already met with Nesbitt and taken him on a tour of the murder scenes in Coleraine and the north coast.

Howell and 51-year-old Stewart are currently serving life sentences for the murders of their respective spouses Lesley Howell (31) and Trevor Buchanan (32) in May 1991.

The Ballymoney dentist and lay preacher gassed his wife and the RUC husband of his mistress and made it look like they died in a suicide pact in Castlerock after they discovered their partners were having an affair.

Police never suspected the truth, and it was only 19 years later that they reopened their investigation after Howell coolly walked into a police station and confessed to the murders, naming Stewart as his accomplice.

Ever since Howell and Stewart were jailed, there’s been intense speculation that a film or TV drama would be made.

Another element which would heighten any potential drama is Howell’s abuse of female patients in his dental surgery.

In May 2011, Howell, who was ordered to serve at least 21 years behind bars for the murders, was sentenced to another five-and-a half-years’ imprisonment for indecently assaulting a number of women while they were under sedation.

It’s understood that Nesbitt is the director’s first choice for the part of Howell and the actor has already said he’s drawn to the role, not only because of what happened but also because the bodies were found in Castlerock, only a few miles from his family home.

Producers also believe that Hazel Stewart’s involvement in the killings and her insistence that she was innocent - even when she was ordered to serve a minimum 18-year jail term - would increase interest among women viewers.