David Cameron has said he will ask the culture secretary John Whittingdale to investigate The Secret, the ITV drama based on the real-life murder of Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan.
Lauren Bradford, the daughter of Lesley Howell, has written how the drama was made against their family’s wishes, and her case was raised during prime minister’s questions by her MP, Labour’s Louise Haigh.
The Secret, starring James Nesbitt, recounts the story of Bradford’s mother, who was initially thought to have committed suicide in 1991 before it was discovered in 2009 that she had in fact been killed by her husband Colin Howell and his lover Hazel Stewart.
Ms Haigh said that as far as she could see from contacting ITV and Ofcom, no rules had been broken, but she added, “They are having to relive this pain because ITV are dramatising the whole ordeal completely against their wishes, using not only the real names of her family but also her own.”
She asked Mr Cameron, “Does the prime minister not agree victims should have a far greater role in any accounting of their story?”
The Prime Minister said he would ask culture secretary John Whittingdale to look into Bradford’s case and similar cases in the future.
In a piece for the Guardian last week, Bradford wrote about how the TV dramatisation had affected her. “We all love a good crime drama. Yet the reality of murder on the families involved is much more sobering, traumatic and, well, messier than is often projected on our screens. 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.”
An ITV statement said: “ITV has a proud record of broadcasting award-winning factual dramas, based on or representing real events and people. 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.”