ITV defends 'The Secret' after House of Commons criticism

Suzanne McGonagle
11 May, 2016 18:00

ITV has defended its dramatisation of the chilling story of one of the north's most shocking murder cases after concerns were raised in the House of Commons.

Prime minister David Cameron agreed to a meeting with the culture secretary to discuss the drama, 'The Secret', which tells the story of the murders of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan.

The drama, based on the book by Deric Henderson, tells the real-life story of Coleraine dentist Howell's affair with Hazel Stewart, previously Buchanan, which led them to kill their spouses and make it look like suicide.

But the four-part dramatisation has been criticised by the families of the victims.

Writing on the Guardian's website earlier this month, Lesley Howell's daughter Lauren Bradford said "exploiting a tragedy for entertainment can result in further feelings of loss and lack of control" for victims' families.

Her concerns were raised yesterday during Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons by Labour Party MP Louise Haigh.

"My constituent's mother was killed in 1981. At the time, it was covered up as a suicide pact, but 18 years later it was uncovered that she had actually been murdered by my constituent’s father and his mistress," she told the Commons.

"I do not think that anyone in this House will be able to imagine the pain and suffering that she and her family have had to endure.

"They are now having to relive that pain, because ITV is dramatising their whole ordeal, completely against her wishes, using not only the real names of her family but her own real name."

Ms Haigh asked "does the Prime Minister agree that victims’ voices should have a far greater role in any account of their tragedy?"

"Will he meet me and my constituent to discuss what more could have been done in this case and how we can strengthen regulation in future to protect victims?"

Mr Cameron told the Commons: "I will discuss this case with the culture secretary (John Whittingdale) to bring it to his attention and see whether there is anything more - apart from the conversations that she has had with ITV and with Ofcom, which is a powerful regulator - that can be done."

He added: "I was not aware of the case that the honorary lady rightly raises. I remember from my time working in the television industry that there are occasions when decisions are made that can cause a huge amount of hurt and upset to families."

An ITV spokeswoman last night defended the programme and said it had "a proud record of broadcasting award-winning factual dramas, based on or representing real events and people".

"The scripts for The Secret were based on an exhaustively researched book by a highly respected journalist as well as extensive additional research and the documented court cases, which have been widely reported in the media," she said.

"The programme makers informed the families of the production, and gave them the opportunity to see the series prior to broadcast.

"We have never suggested that they approved or authorised the drama.

"We do believe that we have conducted the making and broadcast of this series responsibly, in seeking to minimise distress to family members, in so far as we were able to do so, given the subject matter."

11 May, 2016 18:00 News