A TV DRAMA portraying the community’s response to the kidnapping of Shannon Matthews polarised local opinion when it was broadcast this week.
More than seven million viewers tuned in to watch BBC One’s ‘The Moorside’, which starred BAFTA winner Sheridan Smith.
The two-part programme focuses on how residents in Dewsbury Moor came together to search for the missing nine-year-old and how they coped with the intense media spotlight – and its aftermath.
Shannon Matthews disappeared from the Moorside Estate in February 2008, sparking a £3m police operation that attracted nationwide attention.
Twenty-four days later, Shannon was found hidden in the drawer of a divan bed at a flat in Batley Carr.
She had been drugged and hidden by her mum Karen and her stepfather’s uncle, Michael Donovan.
The kidnappers planned to “find” Shannon and split the £50,000 reward on offer. They were later arrested and jailed.
‘The Moorside’, which was made by ITV Productions but shown on BBC One, focused on the crusade of neighbour Julie Bushby (Smith) to mobilise the community and demonstrate its moral worth to the police and the media.
Karen Matthews was played by Game of Thrones actress Gemma Whelan and Sherlock star Sian Brooke portrayed Karen’s friend and neighbour Natalie Brown.
For reasons of sensitivity, the two-part drama was filmed in Wyke and Halifax – but key landmarks in Calderdale clearly gave away the location.
While national TV critics almost universally lauded the performance of Sheridan Smith as chair of the Moorside Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, it attracted mixed reviews on social media – and many local viewers found the broad spectrum of ‘Yorkshire’ accents used by the cast a little off-putting.
An executive producer strongly denied the drama exploited its subject for “entertainment”.
Jeff Pope defended the programme against critics, telling Radio 4’s Front Row: “It’s called ‘The Moorside’, it’s not called ‘The Shannon Matthews Story’.”
Pope claimed he and his writers had been ‘kept awake at night’ over ethical concerns surrounding the dramatisation.
Before it was screened, the grandparents of Shannon called the drama “sick and disgusting”.
The mother of Karen, June Matthews, said: “Shannon deserves to live her life in peace. She deserves to be left alone.
“What happened to her was a trauma, a tragedy. It is sick and disgusting that it is being turned into a TV show.
“If she sees (the BBC drama), Shannon is old enough now to understand that it is about her. She will know it is about the terrible things that happened to her. How is that fair? It will upset her.”
Matthews and Donovan were released from jail in 2012 after serving half of their eight-year sentences.
Shannon, now 18, lives away from the area with a new family and a new identity.
The second and concluding part of the drama will be shown on Tuesday night at 9pm.
Karen: ‘I’m scared to go out’
Karen Matthews has said she is afraid to leave her home following ‘The Moorside’ broadcast.
National media reported she had told a friend: “I cannot go out of the door. I’m frightened out of my life. I’m shaking like a leaf. I’m scared to even get any shopping or anything.
“I know I can’t stop it but why does it have to be dragged up again? Why don’t they just leave me alone and let me get on with my life?”
Karen, who continues to insist she had nothing to do with the abduction, is also alleged to have expressed a desire for the police to reinvestigate the case, cryptically claiming: “The truth’s going to come out.”
The Moorside: What you thought
Sue Morton Tate: I thought it was portrayed pretty well – just shows Matthews had most of them on the estate fooled. Sheridan Smith looked as rough as a dog’s backside, which is unusual for her – just goes to show what a bit of slap can do. Will be watching again next week.
Dean Harrison: Personally, I don’t care about the swearing, or the accents. It’s the truth we need and if this gives us it, then so be it. After all this time, knowing that Shannon Matthews is actually safe and well still brought a tear to my eye and put a lump in my throat when they got to the part of Sheridan Smith actually finding out Shannon had been found. Also, the two friends, one standing by Karen and the other with suspicion, is something we were never actually told about.
Linda Harrison: It was interesting to see what went off behind closed doors at that time. Sheridan Smith played the part well.
Taryn Louise Haddlesey: Shannon was a lovely little girl. My son and her were in the same class and sometimes walked home together. But very well done to the cast: every single person was what you see in life. A very embarrassing place to live at the time.
Darran Slator: The accents were appalling.
Kelsey Mcgowan: Very, very accurate. Everything was near enough spot on, apart from the accents.
Carie Calvert: Interesting to see it from another perspective; will be watching again next week.
Stephen Goodlad: The actual family liaison officer was on TV saying she was involved with the filming and script and said it was extremely accurate. So Karen Matthews, on seeing her daughter, acknowledged it was her and then asked to go home. The game was up. Great acting by all.
Scott Barton: Glad I don’t live on Dewsbury Moor if that’s what the people there are like.