TRIAL: Howell fell for £20m scam searching for WW2 Japanese gold

COLIN Howell believed he would land £20 million by ploughing his life savings into a diving project to find Japan’s war gold but ended up with only a few silver coins worth £30, the trial of his lover heard.

The dentist invested £350,000 in the recovery dig in caves in the Philippines only to discover it was a massive scam that only recovered a few brass ammunition boxes.

He told Coleraine Crown Court the realisation that he had been duped at the end of 2008 was the trigger which led to him confessing.

“I made a decision in that moment that I wanted to confess to those murders,” he said.

Howell had been persuaded to get involved in the ill-fated venture by a fellow Baptist and the man who presented him with the ammunition boxes containing the near worthless contents when he flew to Manila was also a Christian.

“I looked at him and said ‘you’re lying, you’re a fraud’, and as soon as I said that it reflected back on me and I knew I was a fraud too,” he said.

Since the end of World War Two, tales have abounded that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, buried a multimillion-pound horde of gold bullion in bunkers in the Philippines.

The legend has prompted countless treasure hunts but none have struck the jackpot.

Paul Ramsey QC, Hazel Stewart’s defence barrister, speculated that Howell would not have admitted to the murders had his ship come in.

“If those ammunition boxes were packed to the gunnels with Yamamoto’s gold would you have gone to the police?” he said.

The lawyer, who has claimed the murders were motivated by money and not his desire to be with Stewart, suggested his confession was also linked to his finances.

“The reason you went to police was because you had no money left,” he said.

Howell said it was not the loss of his savings, but the deception by someone who claimed to be a Christian believer that made him unburden his secret.

“My conscience that had been buried deep in my own bunker covered with concrete suddenly exploded,” he said.