Stewart and Howell murder case draws global attention

Hazel Stewart
Hazel Stewart

THE world’s fascination with a sensational Coleraine murder case has taken a Northern Ireland law lecturer all the way to Australia.

Rosemary Craig (pictured) will be the first female – and the first academic from the Province – to give a keynote address at the prestigious Secau Security Congress in Perth this week.

Rosemary Craig

Rosemary Craig

From the moment Colin Howell confessed to killing his wife Lesley and his lover’s husband Trevor Buchanan, the story has captivated the imagination like few others — largely due to the combination of deceit, intrigue, sex and murderous preparation exposed by the dentist’s revelations and the subsequent criminal trials.

As Professor Craig will highlight in her “Getting Away With Murder” presentation, the fact that many of those at the heart of the story were linked by membership of the local Baptist church made it all the more gripping.

Prof Craig’s research into the 1991 murders, which were wrongly deemed to have been a double suicide until’s Howell’s surprise confession in 2009, has involved studying court transcripts, the Police Ombudsman report, and speaking with the Press Association’s Deric Henderson, who wrote a book on the case.

The Secau conference brings together world authorities on security issues and data gathering to share expertise.

The University of Ulster lecturer’s invitation to Perth came about as a result of a conversation with a leading academic, Dr Craig Valli, while attending a conference in Malta.

Doctor Valli, who is director of the Security Research Institute at the Edith Cowan University in Australia, was fascinated to hear Prof Craig’s account of the Howell case and said he would be in touch to explore the matter further.

The conversation began with Prof Craig tapping into Dr Valli’s knowledge of the famous dingo baby case at Ayres Rock, but soon turned to the shocking events in Co Londonderry.

“I said ‘we had the most dreadful murders in Northern Ireland in 1991’ and then told him about the Howell and Buchanan murders. The man was absolutely gobsmacked,” she said.

“What has really fascinated me was the lack of forensics into the investigation.

“If Howell had not confessed, no-one would ever have known and those two people would have been regarded as statistics for taking their own life.

“Just how coldheartedly it was carried out. I felt so sorry for Trevor Buchanan’s father because that man went to his grave believing that [suicide verdict].”

Prof Craig, who is a member of an advisory group charged with drafting European legislation on surveillance law, said she was delighted to receive the invitation to Perth.

“He [Dr Valli] contacted me to say ‘we have never had a female keynote speaker and we think that you would fit the bill very well for the role of opening the congress,’” she said.

“He said I want you to look at the lack of forensics in the Buchanan and Howell case.

“I was absolutely blown away at the invitation.”

Howell is serving 21 years for the murders. His ex-lover, Hazel Stewart, was also convicted of murder and is serving an 18-year sentence. Her appeal is to be heard early next year.