TRIAL: ‘Blood pact’ over abortion

HAZEL Stewart entered into a “blood pact” with Colin Howell at the time she had a secret abortion in London, her ex-lover has claimed in court.

It strengthened their bond at a time when their affair had gone undetected, the dentist told Coleraine Crown Court.

Howell said: “It was like a blood contract which we had secretly signed together of the murder of an unborn baby. It was a huge bond. It did not make it better.”

He said his first wife Lesley had three abortions in the year before they were married, two of them inside the space of seven months in 1982.

The bond with Stewart was an unseen and powerful one which, he said, could only be broken through confession and seeking forgiveness.

When she became pregnant he said she was unsure and fearful, but his response was passive. He said Stewart wanted the abortion and he had listened, but did not force the issue. He said once the agreement was made, a plan was put into action and she cooperated with it.

He maintained he had not forced her to do anything and denied she had cooperated because she was afraid of him.

He said he did not blame Stewart or his first wife for going through with abortions and later he insisted to the court: “Throwing the blame onto me does not fit.”

Howell was asked by Stewart’s defence lawyer Paul Ramsey QC about a psychiatric report prepared by Dr Helen Harbinson in which he described himself as a “small God who needed to be worshipped by women”.

He said he disagreed with it. Dr Harbinson, he claimed, had misunderstood what he said, and despite his objections refused to change the report. Howell told the court the remark was made in the context that he was in a fantasy world of sex and women.

He told the court: “I never said I was a small God. It is an inaccurate statement about what I actually said.”

Earlier Howell revealed that it was Lesley, then a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, who had arranged and paid for flights to London to have abortions. He spoke of shame both of them felt and how they kept it secret from both their families.

He said his first wife was deeply religious, more intelligent and critical than he was. He said she was distressed at the time but the decision to have an abortion was a joint venture, not the result of his dominance.

Howell told the court her parents thought she was the perfect child and she wanted to maintain that image and one of being a Christian with the perfect marriage. He said that was the problem with religion – people have the symbol of something and are then under pressure to maintain that status. He said that, as a couple, they wanted to be something when in fact they were not perfect.

Howell said: “It was not the right option. I believe that a person who kills an unborn baby is capable of killing a live human being.”

He told the court he and Lesley had wanted to cover up the shame and disgrace and said they would not have another abortion.

But he said they had sex without contraception, she became pregnant a second time and – once the first decision was made to have an abortion – the second decision to abort was easier.

He said it was denial on both their parts and it was the kind of denial he experienced right up to the time he decided to make his confession in 2009.

Howell said: “I have given more than I have lost. It was a good move, probably the best thing I have ever done.”

He said he had never discussed the abortions with Pastor Hansford. He said he had talked about the abortions with Lesley but not about the impact they had on her.