Belfast Telegraph

The Secret: David Cameron to hold meeting to discuss impact of TV drama on families of victims

By Claire Williamson

Prime Minister David Cameron is to hold a meeting to discuss the impact of dramas such as The Secret on the victims' families.

Dentist Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart, who then went under her married name of Buchanan, became embroiled in an affair, plotted and killed their spouses, Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan in 1991.

ITV is currently showing a four-part drama based on the murders starring James Nesbitt.

It is a dramatisation of the real-life story of how Ballymoney dentist and lay preacher Howell gassed his wife and Stewart's policeman husband to made their deaths look like a suicide pact.

Their bodies were found in a fume-filled garage in Castlerock, Co Londonderry.

That remained the official story until Howell confessed his crimes in 2009 admitting he had gassed the pair with Stewart's help.

The couple each received a life sentence for their roles in the 1991 murders in Castlerock.

Following the airing of the first episode, Lauren Bradford, a daughter of double killer Colin Howell, hit out at the programme saying that society's morbid fascination with murder can lead to media exploitation that traumatises victims for a second time.

Read more:

The Secret: Howell and Stewart TV drama adds to agony, says daughter of killer dentist 

On Wednesday during Prime Minister's Questions Labour Party MP Louise Haith called upon the Prime Minister to ensure that regulation could be strengthened to protect the family of victims in the future after she was contacted by Howell's daughter.

She said: "I don't think anyone in this house can imagine the pain and suffering that her and her family have had to endure.

"They are now having to relive this pain because ITV are dramatising their whole ordeal completely against her wishes using not only the real names of her family, but also her own.

"I've raised this with ITV and Ofcom and as far as I can see no rules have been broken.

"Does the Prime Minister not agree that victims' voices should have a far greater role in any accounting of their tragedy and will he meet with me and my constituent to discuss what more can be done about this situation and how we can strengthen the regulation in future to protect victims?"

Prime Minister David Cameron gave his assurance that he would meet with the Culture Secretary to discuss it.

He said: "I remember my time working in the television industry that there are occasions where these decisions are made that can cause a huge amount of hurt and upset to families.

“I will discuss this case with the Culture Secretary (John Whittingdale) and bring it to his attention and see if there is anything else other than the conversations that she has already had with ITV and with Ofcom, who are a powerful regulator, whether there is anything more that can be done."

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