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Where Is Shannon Matthews Now And What Happened To Her? Hoax Kidnapping By Mum Karen Featured In BBC's 'The Moorside'

Karen Matthews planned to share in the £50,000 reward after her daughter was 'discovered'.

07/02/2017 17:40 | Updated 23 February 2017

A controversial new BBC drama series which aired for the first time on Tuesday is examining the tragic real-life tale of the hoax abduction of Shannon Matthews.

The Moorside, named after the estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, where nine-year-old Shannon lived, features Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan as Shannon’s mother Karen and Funny Girl star Sheridan Smith as her friend Julie Bushby.

It focusses on the search for missing schoolgirl and the friendship between Karen Matthews and Bushby, who continued to stand by her throughout her trial.

Karen Matthews was branded “the most hated mum in Britain” after it was discovered that she had conspired with Michael Donovan, her then-boyfriend’s uncle, in order to pocket the £50,000 reward money.

What happened to Shannon Matthews?

West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
Shannon Matthews was nine when she was reported missing in 2008.

Shannon was reported missing on the evening of 19 February 2008 after she failed to return from a school swimming trip.

John Giles/PA Archive
Karen Matthews the mother of missing 9-year-old Shannon Matthews holds her daughters favourite teddy bear during an appeal in 2008.

Hundreds of local volunteers, coordinated by Bushby, also took part in the search.

Shannon’s mother, who is now in her early forties, made a number of emotional appeals for her daughter’s return. 

The story was picked up by the national media - although some drew comparisons with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, saying it received more attention than the Matthews case. In his Guardian Media blog, Roy Greenslade suggested that class may have come into this.

The Sun, however, offered a reward of £20,000 for information which would lead to Shannon’s safe return. The figure later went up to £50,000.

The Sun
The Sun offered a £20,000 reward for information leading to Shannon Matthew's safe return in 2008, which it later upped to £50,000.
Daily Star
The Daily Star's front page about the search in March 2008.
Dave Howarth/PA Archive
Leaflets appealing for information about Shannon Matthews are distributed at Leeds United's Elland Road ground before a match in 2008.

On 14 March - 24 days after she was reported missing - Shannon was found alive and hidden in the base of a divan bed at a house in Batley Carr, West Yorkshire.

Michael Donovan, the uncle of Karen Matthews’ partner, Craig Meehan, was arrested at the scene.

What happened next?

Her mother denied any involvement but Shannon was taken straight into care after her discovery.

Three days later, Karen Matthews was charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice over her daughter’s disappearance.

Handout via Getty Images
A police handout of Karen Matthews after her arrest. She was found guilty of Shannon's kidnap on December 4, 2008 in Leeds.

She and Donovan went on trial, starting in September, and at the conclusion, both were found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice in December.

The plan had been to take Shannon, then release her, drive around the corner then “discover” her before claiming the £50,000 reward.

The court heard evidence from a forensic toxicologist that Shannon had been ingesting temazepam and travel sickness medication for a prolonged period. This suggested she was drugged.

In January 2009, both Matthews and Donovan were sentenced to eight years in prison.

Karen Matthews in particular faced a huge backlash:

Daily Mirror
The Daily Mirror's front page after the guilty verdict against Karen Matthews.
The Sun
The Sun's reporting of the revelations after the verdict.

Karen Matthews was released in April 2012 after serving half her sentence. Donovan was released in March 2012.

She moved to a new home far away from Dewsbury and went on to claim she had become a Christian, according to the Daily Mirror.

She was photographed by The Sun with a dramatically different look, having cut and dyed her hair, presumably to try to avoid attention.

Craig Meehan, Matthews’ boyfriend, was also found to be guilty of 11 offences of possessing indecent images of children. He was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison but was released because he had spent longer than that on remand.

Where is Shannon Matthews now?

After the trial, Shannon was taken into care.

She was given a new identity and now lives with a new family.

She is now 18 years of age. 

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Craig Meehan and Karen Matthews while Shannon was 'missing'.

Why has BBC drama The Moorside caused controversy?

Shannon’s grandparents have branded the show “sick and disgusting” and are concerned it will hurt the now-teenager, according to the Daily Mail.

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 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.”

Despite this, Julie Bushby has praised Sheridan Smith for her portrayal of her, telling This Morning that they were “still mates”.

In the same interview, Natalie Murray, Karen Matthews’ neighbour at the time of Shannon’s disappearance, also praised the documentary.

She said: “They all did an amazing job. Sheridan - how she played Julie - it is scary how accurate it is.”

BBC
Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby in The Moorside

She also spoke of her suspicions at the time about Matthews, saying: “It started when she did the very first interview outside her house. I was there when the family liaison officer said not to do the interview. That it could put her child’s life at risk and Karen did the interview.

‘To me as a mum I thought ‘why would you do that, why would you put your child at risk?’

‘I went straight down and asked her and she said everybody told me to do it. I was angry that nobody would listen to me, that nobody was seeing her behaviour.”

The Moorside airs on 7 February on BBC One at 9pm.

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