A community bared its soul and was slapped in the face by Karen Matthews, writes former YEP editor

A heavy police and media presence outside Dewsbury Magistrates' Court before Karen Matthews made her first appearance after being charged with the kidnapping of her daughter, Shannon.
A heavy police and media presence outside Dewsbury Magistrates' Court before Karen Matthews made her first appearance after being charged with the kidnapping of her daughter, Shannon.
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REPORTS of missing people come in all too often to big city newsrooms.

Many have the hoped-for ending, with the ‘missing person’ re-appearing within a few hours of the alarm being raised.

The Moorside, a two-part BBC One drama on the kidnapping of Karen Matthews.

The Moorside, a two-part BBC One drama on the kidnapping of Karen Matthews.

A few, and thankfully only a very few, reach the dreaded outcome, with the missing person coming to harm.

The disappearance of schoolgirl Shannon Matthews nine years ago this week had, in one sense, the best of resolutions in that she was found alive.

That story of her missing weeks, though, and all that had gone before, pulled back the covers on a chaotic, shambolic upbringing in which the care and affection most would want for their children was painfully absent.

And the crime left a community betrayed.
The Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds reported every twist in this oddest and saddest of stories. The Dewsbury Moor estate, home to Shannon and her family at the time, is ten miles from the newsroom. The Yorkshire Evening Post was part of the lives of people in the area and they often appeared in its pages for reasons good and bad.

Karen Matthews

Karen Matthews

The paper and the estate were as one in trying to find Shannon.

The tale of Shannon’s disappearance and subsequent recovery was complicated and messy.

It was only with the trial, in the months after Shannon was found drugged in the base of a bed at the home of her mum Karen’s partner’s uncle, less than a mile from her own home, that the sheer stupidity of a plot concocted to claim anticipated reward money became apparent.

The people of Dewsbury Moor, and the team at the Yorkshire Evening Post, felt let down by what had happened. Of course there was anger, and that has been evident in the words of many of those who knew Karen Matthews, but there was also overwhelming disappointment.

The paper had given time – at least one reporter for many, many weeks – and hundreds of column inches to finding the little girl, falling for her mum’s tearful pleas for help.

Read more: Shannon Matthews kidnap: BBC drama The Moorside brings back memories of covering a case which gripped nation
Far greater than this had been the community’s part. They’d bared their souls to the not always generous light of the national news media, hoping to find Shannon, and in return had received a slap from Karen and from Michael Donovan (the boyfriend’s uncle) in return. It was someone from within the community who was to blame.

Many odd tales cross the desk of an editor, particularly in a city as large and diverse as Leeds. There are usually complicated layers to the biggest of stories, as there was to the fake kidnapping of Shannon Matthews. You see the very best of people and you see the very worst. Sometimes, they are not that far apart.

20 April 2012.....        B wing at HMP Leeds

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