Killing wife was ‘an act of euthanasia blessed by God’

Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart
Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart

“An act of euthanasia, blessed by God.”

That was Colin Howell’s fervent conviction of why he killed his wife and mother of his four children, Lesley, and Trevor Buchanan, the policeman husband of his lover Hazel in 1991.

At the time Howell was deeply religious and was the leader of the Youth Fellowship in Coleraine Baptist Church.

Consultant psychiatrist, Dr Helen Harbinson, asked how he reconciled his faith with the fact that he had confessed to the double killing.

“He told me he regarded what he had done to his wife as a form of euthanasia. After her father Henry Clarke’s death she was very depressed.

“Late one night in bed she was crying. She told him she believed she was going to die soon and she could not wait to get to heaven. He felt it was his duty to help her.

“He said he had done so much harm to her, he felt he could not help her other than by ending her life. He wanted to relieve her of her grief and pain. At that stage he believed Trevor Buchanan was going through an identical struggle to Lesley.”

He later described this as a “Eureka moment” and that “God would bless his actions in killing them”.

He admitted that it was “horrible” when Lesley and Trevor had struggled as he attacked them.

Dr Harbinson noted: “He told me when Trevor reacted and struggled ‘the wheels came off’ and the same with Lesley to a lesser extent. It was horrific...

“He was distressed when his wife called out their son Matthew’s name [as he suffocated her]. He said however that he had gone too far and at that stage ‘it was like a surgical procedure’.

“After that ‘I sanitised the memory’. The experience was surreal.”

Later Howell broke down in tears because he had robbed the Buchanan family of closure by presenting the deaths as suicide. ‘They can now grieve properly because their secret shame has gone.’

“He was so tormented by the thought of eternal damnation that he believed he had to confess the killings in order to be forgiven and free. The elders of the Church said he would be free if he told all.”