COLIN Howell’s wife Lesley lived in fear for her life from the moment he dangled an electric cable above her as she bathed, the double murder trial of his lover heard.
Six weeks after the incident – which happened during a blazing row at their home in Coleraine in April 1991 – the one-time Christian preacher gassed his wife Lesley to death before doing the same to Trevor Buchanan, the policeman husband of his mistress Hazel Stewart.
Howell told a packed Coleraine Crown Court last Wednesday he considered dropping the cable into the water and admitted the incident put thoughts of murder in his mind.
But he denied he had actually administered a shock – something his wife later claimed to friends – and suggested she had made this up because she was scared what he may do in the future.
“Lesley saw something in me at that moment that I could kill her, and she was right about that,” he said calmly.
Howell, 51, has already confessed to the murders that Stewart now stands accused of.
Again she sat impassively in the dock, dressed in a plum coat, as the man who once asked for her hand in marriage delivered testimony against her on a second day of cross-examination.
Her lawyer Paul Ramsey QC characterised the incident in the bathroom as a failed murder bid and stressed it happened weeks before Howell mentioned to Stewart of his plot to kill his wife and her husband.
While Howell categorically denied he tried to kill Lesley on that occasion he conceded that from then on she knew he could do it, if he wanted.
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.”
Sitting in the witness box in his customary grey suit, he said this was part of the reason why she told her friend Margaret Topping that he had given her a shock.
“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.”
Howell also claimed that his wife had been a bad mother who he once found drunk and unconscious, lying in vomit, when she should have been looking after their four children.
“I thought it was blood at first, but it was red wine and Daniel (his son) was standing holding a half-full bottle of milk.”
He said his marital home was always messy and that she would “fire the kids” at him when he came back from work.
The court was also read transcripts from interviews Howell gave since the murders when he described her as continually icy or angry with him, that she overspent, hit him and put on weight through depression.
The lawyer questioned the purpose of raising such negative points about his late wife, especially when he had professed a desire to bring closure and comfort to her relatives.
“All these statements about her show that even today, in 2011, show you don’t love her, that you never loved your wife and in fact you hated your wife,” he said.
Howell, who admitted he didn’t love his wife, claimed that he deliberately focused on the bad aspects in part to rationalise the killings to himself.
“I over-emphasised those so I could justify what I was doing,” he said.
Again attempting to explain his mental process before the killings, Howell said he had to hate in order to kill.
“When you kill someone you have to hate them, and I hated Trevor and Lesley, wrongly,” he said.
But later in the afternoon, following a 10-minute adjournment, Howell returned to the witness box to tell the jury he made a mistake. When he referred to his hate for Trevor, what he meant to say was that he had “embraced Hazel’s hatred of Trevor”.
He admitted lying to the police in 1991. He agreed he made unflattering remarks about his wife which he deeply regretted.
He conceded they were peppered with things which were not true.
There was a feeling his wife hated him and he hated her. Communication was bad and although he remembered the sunny days as well as the bad days, there was no malice.
On the night of the so-called Eureka moment when Lesley had been with him in bed and declared she wanted to die and go to Heaven, Howell later told police in an interview that he heard a voice telling him: “I can help you.”
However he told the court that it was not a voice. It was words which had come into his head. At the time he believed he was being deluded by a demonic spirit telling him that he was doing something good.