Belfast Telegraph

Why must innocent relatives again suffer in the public glare?

By Alf McCreary

One of the talking points of recent weeks has been the ITV series The Secret which graphically dramatises the grisly story of double murderers Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart.

Some 25 years ago, they murdered their spouses but the relatively recent court cases brought the dastardly crime into the public's attention, and the ITV series - not surprisingly - has a very big audience.

Billy Connolly once said that the ideal country and western song would have as the theme 'My granny died in the pool at Lourdes'.

In the same way, The Secret has all the ingredients for a blockbuster series, including double murders, a passionate affair, sex and violence, and also a strong undercurrent of warped religion.

The relatives of the murder victims have rightly asked why the series had to be made at all, and the predictable PR prattle from ITV does not answer their questions.

Riveting television makes money and, in the television world, top ratings are of paramount importance. This also involves the millions of viewers who help to make it a success.

Initially I decided not to watch it, as it seemed to be an intrusion into personal distress. However, I became hooked, partly because the series is so well done - though I thought that the sex scenes in last week's episode were gratuitous.

The strength of the story is its ordinariness. Somehow when something so horrible occurs, you expect it to take place in highly dramatic settings. Not so with The Secret. This was a vile story that was played out in the surroundings of apparently ordinary houses and locations on the north coast.

For me the central theme of The Secret is how pure evil plays itself out in the most inauspicious of circumstances. Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart murdered their spouses with cold calculation as if they were trussing up chickens to be slaughtered.

The evil was played low-key and at times almost matter-of-fact, though the recriminations became intense as their relationship began to unravel.

It is a story that reminds you that evil takes many forms, ranging from that of a Hitler or a Stalin to the murderous actions of apparently ordinary people who kill in very different ways.

There is also something of the Judas kiss in such evil, the knife thrust into the body with the smile, the throttling until the death sounds cease, then the attempt to carry on living as if nothing bad had happened.

Evil spreads silently, as in the many cases of Catholic clerical child abuse, and abuse in the homes of children and battered wives. Evil does not always shout from the rooftops. More often it seeps through the cracks in the door.

One of the great pities about The Secret is that it tends to portray Christians in Ulster as a very odd lot indeed, but then Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart behaved as very odd Christians.

It is amazing that they got away with it for so long, but in the end they did not do so. The series has reminded me of something I was taught in Sunday school a very long time ago: "Be you sure, your sins will find you out."

The Secret is essentially the triumph of justice over evil. It's a great pity, however, that the innocent relatives of all those involved are made to suffer again in the public glare.

Belfast Telegraph


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