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Distressed daughter of killer dentist Colin Howell to meet culture chief over TV drama The Secret

By Angela Rainey

The daughter of killer dentist Colin Howell is to meet with Culture Secretary John Whittingdale after Prime Minister David Cameron became involved in the row over the impact TV thriller The Secret has had on the distressed relatives of the victims.

The move follows a complaint from Lauren Bradford, daughter of double murderer Howell, that the ITV drama about the killings had left affected people feeling exploited.

The four-part series, which started two weeks ago, dramatises the murders of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan in 1991 by their spouses, who were having an affair. Dentist and church musician Colin Howell and Sunday school teacher Hazel Buchanan, who were members of the same Baptist church in Coleraine, plotted the murders before gassing their partners with carbon monoxide.

They covered their tracks for 19 years by making the deaths look like a suicide pact, before carrying on their illicit affair.

More than 340,000 people tuned in last Friday to watch The Secret, which stars James Nesbitt and Genevieve O'Reilly.

Louise Haigh, the Labour MP for Heeley in Sheffield where Ms Bradford now lives told MPs that "victims' voices should have a far greater role" in determining whether or not programmes based on real-life events that they have been involved with should be made.

"Lauren came to me after she had written a Guardian piece to express her feelings that as a victim she felt her feelings had been undermined to the point of being ignored in the making of The Secret," Ms Haigh told the Commons.

"I then raised it with the Prime Minister because I wanted him to look into doing more to make sure victims' stress is minimal in such events and also to look at the impact such programmes can have on them."

Mr Cameron said he recalled from his own time in the TV industry that "decisions are made that can cause a huge amount of hurt and upset to families".

The PM said he would discuss the issue with Culture Secretary John Whittingdale to examine whether there is anything "more that can be done" in Ms Bradford's case and others.

Ms Haigh said "victims should have a stronger voice when it comes to the development of the story and any sensationalising of the plot, which in this case is a tragedy".

"John Whittingdale was happy to listen and has agreed to meet with Lauren and I at some point to discuss this further," she added.

Ms Haigh said there should be more pre-production involvement with victims' families before any programme is given the go-ahead. "One of the issues that Ofcom has is that it is a post-production regulator, whereas I would like to see its powers strengthened and extend to pre-production," she said.

"Victims should be consulted with beforehand, not have to seek redress once a programme has aired and once the distress has already been caused."

In her Guardian piece Ms Bradford revealed that her family had fought against the making of the series.

"When media interest goes beyond the reporting of events and is against the wishes of family members, the effects can be as devastating as the murder itself," she wrote.

An ITV spokeswoman said: "The programme makers informed the families of the production, and gave them the opportunity to see the series prior to broadcast. We have never suggested that they approved or authorised the drama. We do believe that 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."

Belfast Telegraph


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