Colin Howell should be released by 2014?

The story of Colin Howell had all the necessary ingredients to excite those with an interest in crime stories. The villain was a successful, respectable member of the community; a religious man, a family man who went on to commit what looked like a perfect murder. The police were apparently a bit suspicious about the double suicide of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell but even a non lawyer can see that trying to prosecute Howell when there was an apparently much more convincing explanation for the deaths would have been impossible.

Like most murders it is actually a pretty sordid tale, complete with Mr. Buchanan trying to save himself before being overcome with fumes and Mrs. Howell’s last word being her son’s name: a fact which apparently haunted Howell – something to which almost everyone will say served you right.

Howell has been told he will serve a minimum of 21 years in gaol. Personally I do not support the death penalty nor even the concept that a life sentence should necessarily mean life in gaol. However, 21 years; most likely the majority of the rest of Howell’s life expectancy seems a reasonable sentence. Murdering someone should result in your life being pretty ruined and the fact that Howell will be stuck in the likes of HMP Maghaberry for a very prolonged period seems entirely just and reasonable.

Howell seems still to be a religious man and apparently confessed his crime to church elders before going to the police. If so there is some merit in that and the judge told him that he would have been given 28 years had he not pleaded guilty. One cannot comment on Howell’s current position on religion but confessing one’s sins and repenting from them will, Christians believe, result in their immediate forgiveness. That is, however, very different from meaning that one must not receive the punishment in this temporal world for those sins. Hence, it is entirely consistent for evangelical Christians to believe that Howell has been completely forgiven for his sin, will be in heaven; yet must spend the allotted time in gaol. I have discussed fundamentalists views on forgiveness previously.

Broadening the issue from Howell himself, according to the Sutton Index 91 people died during 1991 in Troubles related deaths; 6 members of the RUC were murdered during 1991. Mr. Buchanan was also in the RUC. However, if any of the murderers of those other RUC officers were convicted they would serve less than a tenth of Howell’s sentence. The same applies to any other murder from the Troubles. This has been argued as having been necessary for “The Process” and we are told that these pathetically short sentences are what we voted for after the Belfast Agreement.

However, there is something fundamentally perverse about the fact that Howell or any other murderer from 1991 will serve a very lengthy gaol term unless the victim was murdered as part of terrorism. It seems that Howell deciding to murder his wife and Mr. Buchanan is a serious crime but had Howell been motivated by sectarian bigotry it would be nothing like as serious and he would be out by 2014 or even earlier with time already served.

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  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Yes its very perverse but in effect we knew this when we voted on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

  • Hopping The Border

    I suppose it depends on if you view the various attacks by the IRA et al as straightforward crime or as actions motivated by something other than normal criminal intent, i.e. the prevailing situation/conditions at the time.

    Effectively does terrorism equate to ordinary crime in all situations or is it distinct in some/all?

    And of course, how does one draw the line between terrorist & freedom fighter….

  • Framer

    The police were totally ineffective when faced with the most unlikely double suicide.

    What was Mrs Howell doing in the boot for starters and if it was open how could the police think she could have been gassed.

    Why were there drugs in the deceaseds’ blood?

    This is certainly one for the HET to check out. Was there collusion or failure to adequately investigate?

    Was there even an inquest? Not that we would necessarily know as inquest results are not published to avoid upsetting the relatives says David Ford,

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Ah Mr Framer over-estimates the powers of El Beardo.
    He never actually has any responsibility for bad decisions.
    Thats the fault of his civil servants.

  • james

    Its interesting juxaposition murders in this manner, at the end of the day to purposely take a life is in fact murder, it just gets dressed up differntly, had he been an airforce pilot and dropped a 500lb bomb on their car from 10,000 feet would it have been any less a crime?

    It’s even more interesting that this story appears alongside a blog concerning Stormont Prime Minister Brian Faulkner aiding in the covering up of the McGurk bombing (15 murders)

    And what if this story had been blogged after the Saville report, British soldiers guilty of 14 murders been protect when a civilian guilty of 2 spends his life in prison.

    Interesting, I hope it adds to the pressure to convict those soldiers and to investigate the Ballymurphy murders also.

    A point well made Turgon

  • james,
    I refer you to my comments on Bloody Sunday where I stated that I approved of and endorsed prosecution of anyone against who there was evidence of criminal wrong doing (not that I have any special power or authority). I take exactly the same view of anyone who committed any crimes in Ballymurphy.

  • james

    Turgon, I would have expected no less from you having read your blog.

    However, I understand from Saville that the ‘criminal wrongdoing’ was actually murder (14 or is it 15) hence the PMs statement at the time.

    I also mentioned the ex-Unionist Stormont Primeminister in my previous reply, because lets be honest its not just those who pull the trigger who have committed the crime its those who gave the orders, put them in positions where murder was the likely outcome and those who covered up the crimes, indeed you could say even those in public positions who gave their support have committed a crime.

    Although to imprison all those people would ultimately be a good thing and it would greatly affect the republican movement I would suspect it would break unionism and indeed the union itself to have people like Col(?) Michael Jackson and Lord Paisley etal hauled off to prison, indeed the matter could only be dealt with via an external agency.

    Although I agree 100% with you I have to ask would the UK have the bottle to hand so many soldiers, police and politicans over to a international criminal court and what would the public reaction be to seeing Army Generals, Primeministers and Lords in the dock alongside Adams and McGuinness.

    Noble sentiments Turgon, but I fear unlikely to happen, the establishment (despite their warm words) will look after themselves