Although the community on the Moorside estate was shaken by the events which unfolded following the disappearance of Shannon Matthews, they would pull together in the same way if something similar happened again, a vicar who helped at the time has said.
Reverend Kathy Robertson, who is responsible for St John the Evangelist church in Dewsbury Moor, helped to support the community when the nine-year-old girl went missing in 2008, as well as in the aftermath of revelations about what really happened.
Hundreds of local volunteers joined a huge police force to help in the search for Shannon, which lasted for 24 days, until Shannon was found alive and hidden in the base of a divan bed.
But although the Moorside estate, in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, was left reeling when it was found that the whole thing was a hoax, Robertson said she believed that the community would still come together in the same way again.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “I very much believe that if the same situation happened again, God forbid, the same community spirit would kick in.
“When a little girl goes missing, it’s human nature to want to do everything you can to make sure it comes to a positive conclusion.
“There’s a whole humanity issue there. You’d do anything for your own children and for somebody else’s child as well, especially in a community like that.”
Speaking about the new BBC drama ‘The Moorside’, which aired last night, Robertson added: “The community spirit was very true to the way I remember it and the way people come together.
“A community that was quite resilient, that was quite compassionate, and pulled together to help someone in need.”
Karen Matthews cousin, Susan Howgate, echoed this, saying that although she didn’t agree with all parts of the drama, it had captured the community spirit at the time well.
She also spoke of her memories of that time, including her shock when it was revealed that Shannon’s own mother had been in on the hoax.
She said: “When I found out that she’d done it, I thought ‘I can’t believe she’s done that I’ve been up there every day comforting her and going out and searching and she’s been sat there lying all the time’.”
Matthews and Michael Donovan, the uncle of Matthews’ partner, Craig Meehan, were later found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.
The plan had been to take Shannon, then release her, drive around the corner then “discover” her before claiming the £50,000 reward.
Both were sentenced to eight years in prison and were released in 2012.
After the trial, Shannon was taken into care and given a new identity.
She is now 18 years of age and lives with a new family.
The BBC’s two-part drama, which features Sheridan Smith and Gemma Whelan has caused some controversy.
It was branded “sick and disgusting” by Shannon’s grandparents, according to the Daily Mail.
But the BBC has defended the show, insisting the drama is not told from Karen Matthews’ point of view, but instead about those involved in the search for her daughter.
A spokesperson for the BBC said: “This drama is not focused on Shannon Matthews herself. Her abduction is not portrayed, nor are her experiences during the time she was missing.
“The drama tells the story of the women who led the campaign to find her.”
The next episode of ‘The Moorside’ airs on BBC One on 14 February.