Amber Benson has revealed the real reason why she refused to return for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The actress memorably played fan-favourite witch Tara Maclay for three seasons on Sarah Michelle Gellar’s acclaimed fantasy drama, which follows the title character as she defeats vampires, demons and other forces of darkness.

Tara was an integral part of the Scooby Gang thanks to her witchcraft and relationship with Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), with the couple making history as television’s first long-term lesbian romance.

Following a brief split in season six due to Willow’s addiction to magic, Tara and Willow reconciled and made love at the Summers household. Devastatingly, their reunion was short-lived as Tara was subsequently shot and killed from a stray bullet by Warren Mears (Adam Busch).

Tara’s death was met with outrage from viewers. Arriving shortly after she and Willow were seen naked in bed together, fans accused creator Joss Whedon of implying that lesbian sex should be punishable by death.

Although there were several opportunities for Benson to reprise her role – the main antagonist in the following season was able to take the form of anyone who had passed – Tara never made another appearance.

While Benson previously stated this was down to scheduling issues, the star has now revealed that she declined because she had animosity with an unnamed person working on the series.

Speaking with author Evan Katz for his new book, Into Every Generation a Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts, Benson said: “This is the first time I’m talking about this. I had had some issues with somebody on the show, and it had kind of come to a head as I was getting ready to leave.

“Leaving the show was sad because there are some of the crew and the writers and some of the cast that I just adore, but I had made my peace with that person and the show and I was done: ‘I’m leaving everything in a good place. I don’t need to come back.'”

Reflecting on Tara’s controversial death, Benson said the storyline “hit Joss that he made a mistake, that he had been short-sighted,” although she doesn’t think Whedon has malicious intent when he wrote the character out of the series.

“I truly, for all of his faults and for all of the things about him that are frustrating, I don’t think he ever meant to hurt the LGBTQ+ community,” she explained. “He just wasn’t thinking. I can truly, from the bottom of my heart, say [that] this was nothing intentional. This was a thoughtless error.

“But I didn’t want to come back. He really wanted me to come back and we just couldn’t come to an agreement on it. And most of that was my schedule.”

Benson also admitted that she “didn’t really trust” how the show would’ve handled her character’s arc if she did return.

“I just didn’t feel super trusting of the situation,” she said. “And I felt like people had already been really hurt by this. And I’m not the writer. I can’t decide what’s going to happen to this character. I don’t have the reins.

“And so between the schedule, and not really having a hundred percent trust in what was going to happen and some other things, it just didn’t work out.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer also starred Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head, David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, James Marsters, Michelle Trachtenberg, Emma Caulfield, Seth Green and Eliza Dushku.

The series received widespread acclaim – with many episodes hailed as some of the finest in TV history (Hush, The Body, Once More, with Feeling) – and has been credited with influencing other series in the same genre.

Buffy was also lauded for its queer representation. As well as making history with Tara and Willow, its final season marked the first time a lesbian sex scene was aired on primetime television.

Into Every Generation a Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts is set to be published 21 April in the UK. You can pre-order now.