Belfast Telegraph

Complaint by murderer Stewart's daughter over TV show rejected

By Ivan Little

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has dismissed a complaint from the daughter of one of Colin Howell's murder victims about the controversial ITV series that depicted the gruesome killings carried out by her mother Hazel Stewart and the dentist.

And the Belfast Telegraph understands that another complaint from Howell's own daughter about The Secret has been withdrawn, even though former Prime Minister David Cameron had taken up her case.

The complaint that did go before Ofcom was from Lisa Buchanan, whose policeman father Trevor Buchanan was murdered by his wife Hazel and her lover Howell.

Howell had earlier killed his own wife Lesley and made the two deaths look like suicide. And he and his mistress would have got away with murder if Howell hadn't confessed to the 1991 killings nearly 20 years later.

The complaint brought by Miss Buchanan and her legal team was of "unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of her privacy" in the four-part series starring Coleraine actor James Nesbitt as the killer dentist.

Miss Buchanan said that she was treated unfairly in the series, which aired in April and May last year, because it promoted itself as being a true story.

An Ofcom report said Miss Buchanan argued that the TV audience had been invited to take all the scenes and dialogue in the series as factual.

It said she also complained that The Secret "was an invasion of our family privacy".

The show, based on a best-selling book by local journalist Deric Henderson, attracted huge viewing figures and has been nominated for a series of awards, but Miss Buchanan told Ofcom that she found it "traumatic".

ITV told Ofcom it regretted any distressed caused to Miss Buchanan.

But it said that an individual's right to privacy had to be balanced against the competing right of the broadcaster to freedom of expression.

The broadcaster also said it had never been the case that broadcasters were required to seek consent from the families of victims of crime before making a programme that portrayed those victims and crimes.

ITV said any infringement of Miss Buchanan's privacy was outweighed by "the genuine public interest in a double murder case and the audience's right to receive information and ideas without interference".

In its lengthy ruling, Ofcom found that Miss Buchanan was not treated unjustly or unfairly in the series.

Ofcom said: "In particular, we considered that viewers would have understood that the series was not a documentary, and that while the drama was based on real events, the characters and scenes presented in the programme were not intended to represent a complete and accurate reflection of the real people and events they depicted."

Ofcom, which redacted several passages of its ruling for legal reasons, added: "Although viewing a programme about a past traumatic event is, understandably, capable of causing distress and upset, in the particular circumstances of this case, and having particular regard to the fact that the information relating to the murders and the notorious events surrounding them was already widely available in the public domain, to the extent that Miss Buchanan had any legitimate expectation of privacy in relation to aspects of the broadcast, it was limited."

An Ofcom spokesman said that after careful examination of the case it had been concluded The Secret didn't break broadcasting rules because the watchdog had considered that viewers would have understood the series was not a documentary.

The Ofcom spokesman also told the Belfast Telegraph that another complaint about The Secret had been withdrawn, but he wouldn't reveal who had made that complaint.

However, it's understood it had been lodged by Howell's daughter Lauren Bradford.

She had claimed the producers had been guilty of exploiting victims' families for entertainment.

The then Prime Minister David Cameron said he would discuss the case with his Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

Ms Bradford's concerns were contained in an article she wrote for The Guardian newspaper in which she expressed her anger at the making of The Secret and claimed the families of the victims had been ignored.

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