UK

Who Is Julie Bushby? Sheridan Smith Portrays Shannon Matthews' Mum's Friend In The Moorside

She continued to visit Karen Matthews throughout her time in prison.

14/02/2017 17:55 GMT

The second part of a controversial new BBC drama series about the hoax abduction of Shannon Matthews will air on Tuesday night.

The Moorside, named after the estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, where nine-year-old Shannon lived, focusses on the search for missing schoolgirl and the friendship between Karen Matthews and Bushby, who continued to stand by her throughout her trial.

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Julie Bushby (front), friend of Karen Matthews, outside Dewsbury Magistrates Court  eight years ago
BBC
Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby in The Moorside

The drama, the second part of which airs on Tuesday night, features Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan as Shannon’s mother Karen and Funny Girl star Sheridan Smith as her friend Julie Bushby.

Bushby, now 46, was chair of the estate’s tenants’ association and helped to coordinate the hunt for Shannon, who was reported missing on the evening of 19 February 2008 after she failed to return from a school swimming trip.

Although she too was taken in by the story about Shannon going missing, Bushby, continued to visit Karen Matthews, then aged 32, every month in prison.

Handout via Getty Images
Karen Matthews after her arrest in March 2008.

She told the Radio Times: “Because I wanted answers. And, at the end of the day, she was a mate.”

When asked if she was angry with Matthews, she said: “What’s the point? Anger just eats away at you.”

Bushby said that the idea that she took part in the hoax was for reward money was “the biggest load of crap going”, labelling Matthews “stupid, not evil”.

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

She said that after her part in the ruse was revealed, she was offered money to talk to members of the press but she didn’t take it.

Instead, Bushby suggested that she was trying to leave her then-boyfriend, Craig Meehan, then aged 22, who went on to be convicted of child pornography offences.

Sheridan Smith has been praised for her portrayal of Bushby, including by the woman herself.

Speaking on This Morning, she said she and Smith were “still mates”.

She said: “She didn’t really ask ‘owt of me, she just spent time with me, and every time I spoke she was repeating it, trying to do it in my accent.”

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Craig Meehan and Karen Matthews during the search for Shannon

Natalie Murray, another friend, said Smith’s portrayal of Bushby was uncanny.

She told This Morning: “Sheridan playing Julie, that was scary – how accurate they got Julie.”

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

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

BBC
Karen Matthews played by Gemma Whelan (right) and neighbours Natalie Brown (Sian Brooke, left) and Julie Bushby (Sheridan Smith)

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

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 Meehan, was arrested at the scene.

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

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Karen Matthews is led from Dewsbury police station, before her court appearance in March 2008

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

She and Donovan went on trial, starting in September 2008, 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.

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.

Shannon, now 18 years of age, has been given a new identity and now lives with a new family.

The Moorside airs on 14 February on BBC One at 9pm.