Northern Ireland

The Secret: David Cameron calls meeting on Colin Howell murder drama

James Nesbitt as Colin Howell in The Secret Image copyright ITV
Image caption James Nesbitt plays the convicted murderer Colin Howell in the ITV drama The Secret

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will meet the culture secretary to discuss a TV drama about a 1991 double murder in County Londonderry.

ITV's The Secret tells the story of convicted killer Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan who killed their spouses and kept the deaths secret for 18 years.

The programme has been criticised by the daughter of one of the victims, who said it had left her traumatised.

A Labour Party MP raised the matter in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Reliving

Howell and Buchanan are serving jail sentences over the murders of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, whose bodies were found in a fume-filled car in Castlerock 25 years ago.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Lesley Howell's daughter Lauren Bradford was highly critical of the makers of The Secret

Police believed at the time that they had died in a suicide pact, but Howell handed himself in in 2009, admitting that he had gassed the pair with Buchanan's help.

Sheffield MP Louise Haigh said the victims' families were reliving the pain of their loved ones' killings as a result of the drama.

She added that "victims' voices should have a far greater role" in determining whether or not programmes based on real-life events should be made.

Narrative

Lauren Bradford, a daughter of Lesley Howell, wrote an article in the Guardian after the first episode of The Secret was broadcast, saying its makers "trivialise the reality of these events and dehumanise the impact that it has on those involved".

She added that victims' families needed to have more rights "over their 'story' and the narrative of their loved ones".

Image caption Dentist Colin Howell handed himself into police almost two decades after the murders

Mr Cameron said he would discuss the programme with Culture Secretary John Whittingdale to see if there is anything "more that can be done" in similar cases.

Actor James Nesbitt plays Howell in the drama, which is based on a book by journalist Deric Henderson that details the murders and the years that followed.

Proud

ITV said The Secret's scripts were based on an "exhaustively researched" book by a "highly respected journalist" and that extensive extra research had been carried out.

It said the families of both victims had been informed of the production and given an opportunity to see it before it was broadcast, but added that it "never suggested" they had "approved or authorised the drama".

"ITV has a proud record of broadcasting award-winning factual dramas, based on or representing real events and people," an ITV spokeswoman said.

"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."

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