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Where Is Shannon Matthews Today, What Happened To Her And Five Other Questions From BBC's The Moorside

Shannon Matthews appeal and search captured the nation's attention.

14/02/2017 17:02 GMT | Updated 14/02/2017 22:36 GMT

A new BBC drama series, the second and final episode of which aired tonight, is examining the incredible real-life tale of the staged abduction of Shannon Matthews.

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

In less than 24 hours, more than 200 officers from West Yorkshire Police were involved in the search and an appeal to find Shannon captivated Britain.

But 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.

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

The answers behind the stranger-than-fiction story, dramatised in BBC’s The Moorside.

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

1. What happened to Shannon Matthews?

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

PA
Police search teams near the home of Shannon Matthews in February, 2008
John Giles/PA Archive
Supporters and family members of missing nine year old Shannon Matthews walk around Dewsbury
Handout via Getty Images
Police image showed Shannon's distinctive boots that she was wearing when she went missing and a video still of her arriving at a swimming baths, the last day she was seen before she was found in Michael Donovan's flat

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

Shannon’s mother, now 41, made a number of emotional appeals for her daughter’s return. 

John Giles/PA Archive
Karen Matthews holds her Shannon's favourite teddy bear as she made an appeal for her daughter's return
BBC
Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan as Karen Matthews

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.

2. Where was Shannon Matthews found?

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.

West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
The base of a divan bed shown as evidence by the prosecution in the kidnap and false imprisonment trial of Shannon Matthews at Leeds Crown Court
West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
Photo issued by West Yorkshire Police of a list of rules found in the flat of Michael Donovan
WEST YORKSHIRE POLICE/PA ARCHIVE
An elastic strap that knotted around a loft beam within Donovan’s flat had been tied round Shannon’s waist to restrict her movements

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

3. Was Shannon Matthews Drugged?

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.

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Karen Matthews is led from Dewsbury police station
West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
Karen Matthews' mugshot

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.

West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
The inside of the flat of Michael Donovan
West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
CCTV handout image issued by West Yorkshire Police of Michael Donovan, entering ASDA in Dewsbury

An elastic strap that knotted around a loft beam within Donovan’s flat had been tied round Shannon’s waist to restrict her movements.

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

4. Where is Shannon Matthews today?

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. 

Her former best friend, Callie Brown, now 17, has spoken about the harrowing aftermath of her disappearance – and how she longs to see her again.

She told This Morning: “Shannon was a quiet girl at the time, she was kind and caring, she was friends with everyone really. She was popular at the time in school, and really outgoing. I couldn’t ask for a better best friend when I was younger, she made my childhood.”

She has not been able to see or speak to Shannon since the incident.

She said: “It’s like there’s a hole in my heart. I wish I could see her, I wish I could meet her to see how she is and how she feels and see what she’s doing and how well she actually is, but until that day comes I won’t know. If there’s an opportunity there to see her then I would definitely take it.” 

5. What happened to Karen Matthews?

Matthews faced huge backlash for her part in the hoax.

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

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.

It was reported that Matthews, whose diet of chocolate in prison left her with rotten teeth, struggled to find work and was living a frugal existence on benefits.

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

News Pics
Karen Matthews seen on 27 May 2012. (Photo credit: News Pics)

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.

Why has 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.”

BBC
Sheridan Smith plays Karen Matthews' friend Julie Bushby

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.”

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Julie Bushby (front), friend of Karen Matthews, outside Dewsbury Magistrates Court  eight years ago

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 parents of Madeleine McCann reportedly slammed the drama, according to Mail Online.

A source close to Kate and Gerry McCann, whose three-year-old daughter disappeared in May 2007, said: “The BBC have been trailing it for a few weeks. Kate and Gerry think the whole thing is appalling, and in really poor taste and bad timing.”

The second edition of The Moorside airs on BBC One at 9pm Tuesday.