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NI Screen defends its £300k funding of The Secret

By Cate McCurry

Published 19/05/2016

A scene from the controversial ITV drama The Secret
A scene from the controversial ITV drama The Secret
MP Louise Haigh

Northern Ireland Screen has defended its decision to pour more than £300,000 of public money into controversial ITV drama The Secret.

The show has been at the centre of a row after family members of the victims said they felt it exploited their grief.

Lauren Bradford, the daughter of Colin Howell, said she had been re-traumatised by the show starring Co Antrim actor James Nesbitt as her killer father.

The Secret portrays the double murder of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan in 1991.

They were killed by their spouses - dentist Colin Howell and Sunday school teacher Hazel Buchanan - who were having an affair. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the murders.

On Friday, David Stewart, who later married Hazel Buchanan, complained that Trevor Buchanan's children were not given a chance to watch The Secret before it aired.

The penultimate episode of the drama, broadcast on Friday night, shocked many viewers with graphic sex scenes involving the two murderers. At the end of each episode, NI Screen is included in the credits alongside Invest NI, which provides the agency with the bulk of its funding. NI Screen also receives money from the Lottery and the European Regional Development Fund.

Defending the £300,000 contribution to the programme, NI Screen said: "This investment was made as part of our overall strategy to develop the screen industries in Northern Ireland. We believe that the writer and production company genuinely sought to deliver a portrayal of the events that is as close to the truth as possible."

They also accepted that all media intrusion is hard to justify to those closest to the events.

ITV has said that while making the series they did their best to minimise distress to the families.

Labour MP Louise Haigh said she was "disappointed" to hear public money had been used to make the four-part series.

"ITV and the production company have got big questions to answer and now potentially the funders of the programme do as well and how they treat victims in the development of the programme," she said.

Earlier this week, Ms Haigh said the broadcaster's handling of the show was "unacceptable" after family members of the victims complained they had not been given a chance to view it before broadcast.

She said: "The revelation that one of the families involved weren't asked if they would like to view the series prior to broadcast is deeply troubling.

"ITV have a duty under the Broadcasting Code to minimise distress and the very least they should do under that obligation is allow the families to view the programme before it airs so they can make sense of it and prepare for the distress to come once it becomes national news."

However, an ITV spokeswoman said that producers notified members of both the Howell and Buchanan families at an early stage of development of the drama.

"They provided information to both Howell and Buchanan family members who wished to be kept informed of the drama, and respected the wishes of those who did not want any involvement with the drama," ITV said.

"The drama was provided to those members of the families who wanted to be kept informed and requested an advance viewing. We have never suggested that any member of either family approved or authorised the drama."

Belfast Telegraph

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