Northern Ireland

Killer dentist Colin Howell could face charge of raping co-defendant Hazel Stewart

Hazel Stewart has made a statement claiming sexual assault by Colin Howell 
Hazel Stewart has made a statement claiming sexual assault by Colin Howell  Hazel Stewart has made a statement claiming sexual assault by Colin Howell 

A decision is expected within weeks on whether killer dentist Colin Howell will face trial in relation to the alleged rape of his former partner Hazel Stewart.

Howell, who is serving at least 22 years for the murder of his former wife and the then husband of Stewart, Trevor Buchanan, was questioned about the alleged sex assault in 2018.

While the allegation of a sexual assault on the mother-of-two was known at the time and featured in The Secret, journalist Deric Henderson’s book later adapted into a TV series about the double murder, it was never raised in Stewart’s defence.

Howell (61) was taken from Maghaberry Prison in 2018 and questioned by detectives from the public protection unit.

Stewart (58), who is serving an 18-year jail term for her role in assisting in the murders of the pair’s former partners, had previously been spoken to by specialist officers and gave her account of the alleged abuse.

Read More: A shocking confession that brought a deadly secret into the open

Through her solicitor, Kevin Winters of KRW Law, she has waived her automatic right to anonymity as a complainant in a sexual assault case.

The bodies of Lesley Howell (31) and Constable Trevor Buchanan (32), were found in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock, Co Derry, in May 1991.

Murder victim Leslie Howell.
Murder victim Leslie Howell. Murder victim Leslie Howell.

Nearly two decades passed before Howell confessed to both killings after being pressured to tell the truth by his then wife Kyle, who had known about the double murder plot for almost 10 years.

He pleaded guilty to the murders in 2010, implicated Stewart in the plot and went on to give evidence against her at her trial.

ITV have already postponed a rerun of the TV series after being contacted by Stewart’s legal team, who expressed concerns that any showing of the graphic drama could be seen a prejudicial to any future trial.

The network have agreed not to rerun the series, starring actor James Nesbitt, until any legal process linked to the allegations of sexual assault are concluded.

Howell is also serving a five-and-a-half-year sentence for sexually assaulting five female patients while they were under sedation at his dental surgery in Ballymoney, Co Antrim.

Murder victim Trevor Buchanan.
Murder victim Trevor Buchanan. Murder victim Trevor Buchanan.

He committed those offences over a 10-year period from 1998 and 2008.

Stewart’s second husband David, a former police officer, has stood by her throughout the trial and her imprisonment and remains supportive of her decision to report the alleged sexual assault.

A file on the new allegations was sent to the Public Prosecution Service in 2019, with a decision on whether Howell will now face additional charges expected within weeks.

Mrs Stewart always maintained she was in a controlling relationship with Howell. However, this was never fully explored at her trial.

Coercive control is still not law in Northern Ireland with Justice Minister Naomi Long currently progressing a bill through the assembly that will make controlling behaviour a crime.

If Howell is charged and convicted of the sex assault it could pave the way for a fresh appeal by Stewart, who had previously exhausted the appeals process.

Mr Winters said: “I can confirm the PPS are investigating serious historic allegations of sexual assault on Hazel Stewart.

“We requested a full criminal investigation following a review of recent legal developments on what amounts to coercive conduct. The decision making on a direction to prosecute is imminent on these very sensitive matters.”