14/02/2017 20:39 GMT | Updated 10/02/2021 15:12 GMT

Shannon Matthews: The Main Players In The Bizarre Kidnap Hoax

BBC drama The Moorside reexamines the hoax abduction of Shannon Matthews in 2008.

The tragic tale of the hoax abduction of Shannon Matthews will be re-examined on Tuesday night in a controversial new BBC drama series. 

The Moorside, named after the estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, where nine-year-old Shannon lived, features a host of big names portraying Shannon’s mother Karen, her boyfriend Craig Meehan, friend Julie Bushby and accomplice Michael Donovan.

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 (played by Gemma Whelan)

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

Shannon’s mother Karen Matthews conspired with her boyfriend’s uncle Michael Donovan in staging the abduction of her daughter.

The pair hoped to claim the £50,000 reward money being offered for her safe return. Matthews was sentenced to eight years in prison for her part in the bogus abduction.

She was released in April 2012 after serving half her sentence and now lives in the south of England under a new identity.

The 41-year-old mother-of-seven has complained she has been bombarded with death threats in the wake of the The Moorside and continues to maintain her innocence.

Matthews is played by Gemma Whelan, who is best known for her role as Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.

The 35-year-old, who appeared “unrecognisable” in her role as Matthews, tweeted: “Gosh thanks all so much for your amazing response to The Moorside. I’ve read and I appreciate every word. Such an amazing team to work with.”

John Giles/PA Archive
Karen Matthews during a tearful appeal for her missing daughter 

Craig Meehan (played by Tom Hanson)

Karen Matthews’ partner Craig Meehan, then 22, is played by RADA-trained Tom Hanson.

It is the first television acting role for Hanson.

Meehan was cleared of any involvement in the kidnap plot but during the investigation into Shannon’s disappearance, his computer was found to have images of child pornography on it.

Owen Humphreys/PA Archive
Craig Meehan pictured with Karen Matthews outside their home in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire in 2008

The fishmonger was found 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.

The convicted paedophile still lived in Dewsbury until recently, when he was revealed to be residing just 100 yards from a primary school.

Now aged 30, he has been relocated again for his own safety after angry locals and the father of a child at the school confronted him.  

RADA-trained Tom Hanson plays Meehan 

Julie Bushby (played by Sheridan Smith)

Julie Bushby, who was chair of the estate’s tenants’ association, 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 every month in prison.

In The Moorside, she is played by Funny Girl star Sheridan Smith. 

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

Bushby told the Radio Times why she visted Matthews: “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”.

Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby in The Moorside

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, Meehan.

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.”

Michael Donovan (played by Sam Chapman)

Michael Donovan, the uncle of Craig Meehan, was arrested at the scene when Shannon was found drugged, bound and hidden in the base of a divan bed in his flat.

He is played by Sam Chapman, who has appeared in programmes such as DCI Banks and North and South, in The Moorside.

Handout via Getty Images
Michael Donovan was the uncle of Karen Matthews' partner, Craig Meehan

Along with Matthews, Donovan, then 39, 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.

During the trial, details about Shannon’s miserable existence in Donovan’s flat for more than a month emerged.

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

West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
An elastic strap used to restrict Shannon's movement

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.

A list of rules to adhere by was also found.

West Yorkshire Police/PA Archive
A list of rules found in the flat of Michael Donovan

According to the Sun, Donovan was born Paul Drake, the youngest of nine children, and brought up on an estate in Dewsbury.

The Telegraph reported during the Shannon Matthews trial that Donovan’s own daughter had been taken into care following claims he made them watch him have sex with prostitutes.

He was also accused of kidnapping his own daughters, although the case was dropped.

Donovan also had a number of run-ins with the law in earlier life, including a conviction at 16 for causing criminal damage.

Computer-generated images showing the conditions Shannon was subjected to

According to the Telegraph, he suffered both physical and mental health issues, and was described as having half the average IQ.

Donovan was released from prison in March 2012.

After Matthews and Donovan’s trial, Shannon was taken into care. She was given a new identity and now lives with a new family.

She is 18 years old and under strict guidelines put in place after her mother’s conviction, she is not free to talk to the media until she is 21.

Part 2 of The Moorside will air on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday.