As it marks nearly a decade since the appeal and search for nine-year-old Shannon Matthews in 2008, BBC One’s two-part series, The Moorside, revisits the unusual event that grasped the attention of the local community, as well as news nationwide. Shannon’s disappearance in Dewsbury was said to be the biggest missing person investigation for the West Yorkshire Police since the case of the Yorkshire Ripper in 1981. After more than three weeks, Shannon was found in the base of a bed in the house of Michael Donovan, the uncle of Karen Matthew’s partner Craig Meehan. The family that had called for their daughter to be found had in fact been involved in her disappearance. The investigation did not end in relief for the community but in further disturbance.
The BBC’s decision to make the docudrama did not escape controversy. The Moorside gathered a lot of attention before it was aired, receiving calls from Karen Matthews’ relatives urging producers not to broadcast the show. In an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Karen’s cousin Susan Howgate spoke out against the programme believing it would ‘bring everything back.’ Another possible concern that arose before the show was broadcast was how it might affect the now 18 year-old Shannon who lives under a new identity. While nearly nine years have passed since the disappearance, it is likely that the story is one that many have been trying to forget.
The Moorside, however, does not place its focus on Shannon Matthews, but on the residents of the estate, their reactions to the kidnapping, and to the lies that surrounded it. Sheridan Smith’s performance as Julie Bushby, a friend of Karen Matthews, was a particularly convincing portrayal of an energetic community leader with an unwavering loyalty to find Karen’s daughter. Gemma Whelan’s representation of Karen should also be credited with equal praise. She depicts Karen as multidimensional in character, as someone who is acting as an adult and never completely certain of the differences between right and wrong.
Since the final episode last Tuesday, the show has been highly praised. Nonetheless, an issue that has emerged is whether it was an accurate representation of what actually took place. In The Guardian, Mark Lawson has noted that several scenes such as Julie’s speech in the courtroom at Karen’s trial are ‘solidly factual.’ Mumtaz Hussain, a local councilor in Dewsbury however, thinks differently. Hussain told The Huffington Post, that there were, ‘more people from that south-east Asian background involved in that search than what was portrayed last Tuesday.’
It is inevitable that dramatic adaptations of such complex real life events will struggle to act as accurate accounts of what actually took place. It cannot be denied however that Neil McKay and Jeff Pope’s The Moorside has constructed a powerful image of a local community that was brought together but also broken apart by such an incident, telling a side of the story of the Shannon Matthews case that might have otherwise been left untold.