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The Secret: Outrage over sex scenes in ITV's Colin Howell drama

By Allan Preston

Published 14/05/2016

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

Viewers reacted with outrage and horror as the third episode of ITV's controversial The Secret was broadcast last night.

The thriller dramatises the 1991 murders of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell at the hands of their spouses Hazel Stewart and Colin Howell, who were having an affair.

The first episode of the four-parter generated massive ratings, drawing in a consolidated audience of 5.8 million people, equating to a 23% share of the overall viewing figure.

However, many people took to Twitter last night to express their shock after scenes portraying the inquest into the murders were inter-cut with graphic sex scenes between the two killers, played by James Nesbitt and Genevieve O'Reilly.

Katie Phipps tweeted: "I find it difficult to watch this now, knowing that the victims' families were not consulted."

Viewer Polly wrote: "I feel so sorry for the real-life families. This pair appear to be without feeling. Must be hard to watch."

And Kellie McNabb posted: "The Secret is honestly the creepiest, most disturbing thing I have ever watched."

Earlier yesterday broadcaster ITV was criticised for failing to give the family of one of the murder victims a preview of the controversial episode.

Double murderer Hazel Stewart later married David Stewart - and he said yesterday that the channel failed to offer an advance viewing of the show to Trevor Buchanan's children.

ITV said earlier this week that it had informed the families and had given them "the opportunity to see the series prior to broadcast".

When ITV was contacted by this paper for a clarification yesterday, a spokesman insisted the families were offered an opportunity to watch a preview.

"We believe 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," the spokesman added.

But Mr Stewart maintained he understood the Buchanans were not given the chance.

Lauren Bradford, Colin Howell's daughter, who now lives in Sheffield, has become a vocal critic of the TV drama.

Writing in The Guardian, she said: "Behind the high viewing figures, whether for fiction or the coverage of real crimes, there are people living with murder bereavement on a daily basis.

"An intrusive media experience can often compound this original trauma.

"If deemed 'a good enough story', private grief then becomes public property."

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