Councillors and a journalist who covered the search for Shannon have told The Huffington Post UK of the scale of the response from Dewsbury’s Asian population, prompting concerns about their portrayal in the new BBC drama.
Mumtaz Hussain, a local councillor in the West Yorkshire town, said that despite the huge effort on the part of Asian people there, the programme doesn’t include many Asian faces.
“The Asian community played a big part and a lot of Asian people were working in this group,” he said. “But when they showed the drama there were hardly any Asian people in it.”
“They could have made it more diverse. At the end of the day, with the information the BBC have, they never contacted me,” he added.
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Hussain, who worked to find Shannon in 2008 and appears prominently in archive press photographs and footage of the iconic banner walk through Dewsbury, said that the BBC must have known what that scene looked like.
“When we were holding the banner and walking with the banner, they must have had all this footage,” he said. “They must have known.”
In the first episode of ‘The Moorside’ which aired last week, just two non-white actors appear in the banner walk scene as background artists.
Speaking against the mist-cloaked backdrop of the Dewsbury Moor estate where the Matthews lived, Hussain’s fellow Labour councillor Darren O’Donovan told HuffPost UK diversity was one part of the TV adaptation he took issue with.
“When I witnessed what was going on there, there was a number of different communities involved in that search [for Shannon] and that didn’t play out in the drama I saw last week,” he said.
“A number of people from different communities have noticed. Predominantly the south-east Asian community,” he added. “Certainly when I remember those few weeks there certainly was more people from that south-east Asian background involved in that search than what was portrayed last Tuesday.”
The 2011 census found Dewsbury had a 16.5% south-east Asian population.
O’Donovan said BBC producers had shunned locals and his council colleagues, and filmed most of the drama dozens of miles away in Bradford.
“I’ve not spoken to any of the producers of that programme to understand why they’ve represented it that way,” he said.
Watch his interview, above.
It isn’t the first controversy to hit the BBC One drama. Last week, questions were raised over whether the production had sought the opinion of Shannon, who is now 18-years-old and lives with a new family.
Defending the programme, ‘The Moorside’s’ executive producer Jeff Pope claimed the drama “wasn’t about Shannon”.
And the girl’s grandparents, June and Gordon Matthews, have spoken to the press about their belief the drama should never have been made.
“It isn’t entertainment, it’s real life and it hasn’t even been ten years since it happened,” they said.
But despite concerns over the diversity in the drama, Hussain told HuffPost that the programme’s portrayal of Julie Bushby, who worked to almost single-handedly organise the massive hunt for Shannon, was very accurate.
“What they showed about Julie was true, she did so much work,” he said. “Nobody did what they did back then for publicity, they did it for the little girl. Everyone was so worried.”
Journalist Richard Edwards, who was the first local reporter on the scene back in 2008, said: “The search for Shannon was multicultural, there were Asian faces amongst the white faces in that community response.”
Edwards, who now works for BBC Radio Leeds, added: “People [on Dewsbury Moor] don’t look at faith or skin colour, if a kid went missing no matter what they’re background was, [if] a kid had gone missing they’d be out there searching.”
Watch his interview, above.
Those with very little, would still drop everything to help
Dewsbury is a town marred by crime and controversy, struggling to recover from a precipitous decline in industry.
Yet for many living there, the latest instalment in another of the town’s controversies has passed with little fuss.
“I’ve not watched it,” one local shopkeeper said of ‘The Moorside’ programme. “I wasn’t here when it happened but we’ve heard about it. People do talk about it and especially when the papers show the grandma and people.”
Alongside the many boarded up premises and empty shops in Dewsbury town centre, people going about their business this week told HuffPost UK the drama revealed parts of the story they didn’t know at the time.
It’s quite interesting because we were on the search
“We are watching it,” a woman who didn’t want to be named said. “I haven’t,” another chipped in. “Actually, it’s quite interesting because we were on the search,” another said.
“We’re not from Dewsbury Moor, but we were on it. We gave leaflets out where we lived. And to see how [Karen Matthews] was acting - we never saw that.”
“I thought it was pretty disgusting to be fair, we went out in the cold it was snowing I think at the time,” they added. “We went out with the leaflets putting them through people’s letterboxes.”
But would they do it again, after such a betrayal of trust? “Yeah,” the woman said. “For anybody.”
One cafe owner, who said he and his wife lived opposite the Matthews at the time, said “I lived on Dewsbury Moor, about five houses away. I haven’t watched the drama.”
“My wife helped out at the time,” he said. “My wife just said ‘that was what it was like’, that was Dewsbury Moor. It was like that up there, it was a benefits area.”
“All of us were none the wiser. You can never know what is really happening,” another man said. “Doesn’t matter what town it is - this sort of thing can happen in every sort of town.”
And for the millions tuning in on Tuesday evening to watch the second instalment of ‘The Moorside’ the story proves just as captivating as ever.
The drama focuses on the story of the women who led the campaign to find Shannon MatthewsBBC
The BBC told HuffPost: “The producers, ITV Studios, extensively researched the estate in 2008 to ensure the drama authentically reflects the diversity of the community at that time.
“The drama focuses on the story of the women who led the campaign to find Shannon Matthews.”
They added: “This drama is the story of the women who led the campaign to find Shannon Matthews, and therefore our consultations were with members of the community themselves.”