Sheffield woman’s anger as ITV show dramatises mother’s murder

James Nesbitt as Colin Howell in The Secret
James Nesbitt as Colin Howell in The Secret
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A Sheffield woman whose mother was murdered by her father and his mistress is having her ordeal dramatised by ITV against her wishes.

ITV show The Secret, which stars James Nesbitt, tells the story of how dentist Colin Howell and his mistress Hazel Stewart killed their partners Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan in Northern Ireland in 1991.

Murder victim Lesley Howell

Murder victim Lesley Howell

At the time the deaths were thought to be a suicide pact, with the killers not brought to justice for almost 20 years.

Lesley’s daughter Lauren Bradford is unhappy ITV producers have made the programme against her family’s wishes and using the real names of those involved.

Lauren, who is now 29 and lives in Heeley, 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. And an intrusive media experience can often compound this original trauma.

“If deemed ‘a good enough story’, private grief becomes public property.”

Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh raised her case with David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions.

She told the House of Commons: “My constituent’s mother was killed in 1991. At the time it was covered up as a suicide pact but 18 years later it was uncovered that she had actually been murdered by my constituent’s father and his mistress.

“I don’t think anyone in this house can imagine the pain and suffering they have had to endure, but they have now had to relieve this pain because ITV are dramatizing the whole ordeal completely against their wishes using not only the real names of her family but also her own.

“I have raised this with ITV and Ofcom and as far as I can see no rules have been broken but will 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 have been done in this circumstance and how we can strengthen the regulation in future to protect victims.”

Mr Cameron said he was not aware of the case but would raise the matter with Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

He said: “I remember my time working in the TV industry that there are occasions these decisions are made which cause a huge amount of hurt and upset to families. What I will do is discuss this case with the Culture Secretary and bring it to his attention and see if there is anything other than the conversations she has already had with ITV and Ofcom which is a powerful regulator and see what more can be done.”

An ITV spokesman said: “ITV has a proud record of broadcasting award-winning factual dramas, based on or representing real events and people. These include Hillsborough, Bloody Sunday, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, Appropriate Adult, Code of A Killer, The Widower, and The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies.

“The scripts for The Secret were based on an exhaustively researched book by a highly-respected journalist as well as extensive additional research and the documented court cases, which have been widely reported in the media.

“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.”