Northern Ireland

The Secret: NI Screen defends contributing £300,000 towards ITV drama

James Nesbitt as Colin Howell in The Secret Image copyright ITV
Image caption James Nesbitt plays the convicted murderer Colin Howell in the ITV drama The Secret

The government-backed agency Northern Ireland Screen has defended helping to pay for the controversial ITV series 'The Secret'.

NI Screen contributed more than a quarter of a million pounds to the programme, which tells the story of how Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart murdered their spouses twenty-five years ago.

Some relatives of the victims have said the series has re-traumatised them.

NI Screen invested £300,000 in the production of The Secret.

"This investment was made as part of our overall strategy to develop the screen industries in Northern Ireland. ITV has commissioned and broadcast very little television content produced in or portraying Northern Ireland," NI Screen said in a statement.

NI Screen acknowledge that the four-part series, which stars local actor James Nesbitt, may be difficult viewing for the relatives of the people who were killed.

The statement added: "All media intrusion is hard to justify to those closest to the events.

Image caption Hazel Stewart, formerly Buchanan, was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in prison

"We would welcome and comply with any protocol that might be developed around how to handle these sensitive issues."

The Labour MP, Louise Haigh, raised concerns about the impact on the families of the murder victims in the House of Commons last week.

She has now gone further, saying: "The re-telling of The Secret has brought untold trauma to the families connected to these tragedies.

"The fact that we now know The Secret has received public money raises further questions about accountability and the treatment of victims."

Image caption Dentist Colin Howell handed himself into police almost two decades after the murders

The £300,000 contribution from NI Screen was only a fraction of the overall cost of the production.

At Stormont, a spokesperson for the executive defended the funding, and added: "We respect the rights of all those affected by the programme but any complaints are a matter first and foremost for the broadcaster."

The Secret is a TV drama based on the true story of how dentist Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart killed her husband Trevor, and his wife Lesley.

The murders happened exactly 25 years ago on 19 May 1991.

Actor James Nesbitt plays Howell in the drama, which is based on a book by journalist Deric Henderson that details the murders and the years that followed.

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