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Secret finale to be screened on day after 25th anniversary of murders of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell

By Allan Preston

Published 20/05/2016

James Nesbitt in The Secret
James Nesbitt in The Secret
Actors portraying them in a court scene from the TV drama
The explicit scenes
A scene from the controversial ITV drama The Secret

The final episode of controversial ITV series The Secret will be broadcast tonight, just a day after the 25th anniversary of the murders it is based on.

The four-parter, starring James Nesbitt and Genevieve O'Reilly, has sparked anger for its portrayal of the 1991 killings of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell in Castlerock.

The pair were murdered by their spouses Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan, who were having an affair.

Tonight's concluding episode centres on killer Howell's decision to finally confess to police, and his highly publicised trial with Hazel Stewart (formerly Buchanan).

Last Friday's episode shocked many viewers after graphic sex scenes were spliced with a portrayal of the inquest into the double murder.

Lauren Bradford, the daughter of Howell, said that the people behind the programme were guilty of exploiting the grief of victims' families.

There was further controversy this week when it emerged that £300,000 of public money had been donated towards the production costs by Northern Ireland Screen.

Pressure group the TaxPayers' Alliance said last night it was unhappy at the way our cash had been handed over.

Chief executive Jonathan Isaby told the Belfast Telegraph: "This is shocking. Many taxpayers will be astounded to learn that a body even exists to throw their money at commercial TV productions in this way.

"But the fact that their cash has been subsidising a programme whose producers already have questions to answer about the treatment of murder victims' families will only intensify their concerns."

The explicit scenes
The explicit scenes
Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel Stewart in a court scene
James Nesbitt as Colin Howell in a court scene

Defending the decision, Northern Ireland Screen said: "We believe that the writer and the production company genuinely sought to deliver a portrayal of the events that is as close to the truth as possible."

NI Screen receives the majority of its funding from Invest NI, along with grants from the Lottery and the European Regional Development Fund.

Invest NI has distanced itself from the controversy.

Hazel Stewart with her husband David Stewart
Hazel Stewart with her husband David Stewart

In a Press statement, the agency said: "Invest NI did not provide any direct financial support towards the filming of The Secret.

"Our involvement is limited to the funding of the Opening Doors Strategy, which aims to develop Northern Ireland's television, film and digital content sectors.

"Between 2014 and 2018, £42.8m of funding has been granted to NI Screen for this strategy.

"Invest NI is aware of recent media coverage of The Secret and the impact on the families. However, our involvement is limited to the funding of the Opening Doors Strategy."

Under the terms of a previously reached agreement, NI Screen is required to include the Invest NI logo in the credits for any production it is involved with.

Lesley Howell
Lesley Howell
Colin Howell
Hazel Stewart
Trevor Buchanan
A scene from The Secret showing the Buchanans in church
The couple on their wedding day in 1981

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