The Moorside: Shannon Matthews drama divides opinion on Dewsbury estate

8 Feb 2017...... Dewsbury scenes. Picture Scott Merrylees
8 Feb 2017...... Dewsbury scenes. Picture Scott Merrylees
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It was a 24-day search for a missing girl that thrust a West Yorkshire council estate into the national spotlight, before making it famous for all the wrong reasons.

The hunt for Shannon Matthews on the Moorside estate in Dewsbury ended on March 14, 2008, when the nine-year-old was found hidden and drugged at her stepfather’s uncle’s home, less than a mile away.

The Moorside, which aired on Tuesday night on BBC One

The Moorside, which aired on Tuesday night on BBC One

The revelation that the kidnapping was planned by Shannon’s mother Karen and her partner’s uncle Michael Donovan to generate money from the publicity sparked national outrage, and resulted in prison sentences for both.

Nine years on, the Moorside estate is hitting the headlines again thanks to a new BBC drama detailing the efforts of the local community, let by Karen’s neighbour Julie Bushby, to find the missing girl and their refusal to believe she was dead.

And according to Natalie Murray, who lived two doors down from the Matthews house and featured prominently in The Moorside, played by Sherlock star Sian Brooke, the programme’s focus on the community’s efforts helps correct some misconceptions about the area.

She told the BBC: “It is a good thing for the simple reason, that there was a lot of negative press and negative things said about the whole situation.

There were people out searching for Shannon, neglecting their own kids. I was out there day and night, and so were a lot of other people.

A Moorside resident

“I hope Shannon does watch this eventually and sees the positive side of what went on and what we did for her, It was not for Karen, it was for her.”

The plot hatched by Karen Matthews and Donovan saw the estate tarred as an example of ‘Broken Britain’, a tag that left locals furious. But Ms Murray said it also had a damaging effect on Moorside residents.

“There was anger, outrage, people didn’t know who to trust, the community kind of broke down, nobody knew who to trust any more,” she said.

“The commitment we had to each other kind of broke down. It is not as close as it was originally. I moved away shortly after.”

BBC handout photo of Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby.

BBC handout photo of Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby.

When The Yorkshire Post visited the estate today, opinion of the drama, starring Gavin and Stacey star Sheridan Smith, was mixed.

One female resident, who did not want to be named but lived on the estate at the time and was part of the search for missing Shannon, suggested the show should never have been made and that any proceeds should go in a trust for the kidnapped girl

She said: “It was a joke, it didn’t portray everyone who went into it, it was just about that one set of people.

“To be quite honest the people that were there [in the drama] didn’t do any searching, they were in the house all the time.

8 Feb 2017...... Dewsbury scenes. Picture Scott Merrylees

8 Feb 2017...... Dewsbury scenes. Picture Scott Merrylees

“There were people who came from miles and miles, and there was not a mention for everyone. It was from their side, how they saw it, it was about Julie.”

Such was the anger at the way the estate was portrayed by the media, she said, that a group of residents went to London to confront executives from the Sun newspaper. But she said: “Nothing happened, they wouldn’t talk to us.”

Describing the focus of the BBC drama, she said: “It was pathetic, it was really was a shambles. From the estate side of it, how the search went on, they didn’t show our side of it, what was true.

“There were people out searching for Shannon, neglecting their own kids. I was out there day and night, and so were a lot of other people.”

Chris Waring, 51, a Tesco shop assistant, said: “I thought it was quite good, it showed that we are not alcoholics going out in our pyjamas.

“At the time all the journalists were here. It has calmed down now, it is quiet here, not like before. It is nice to live here, it is a close-knit community I suppose.”

8 Feb 2017...... Dewsbury scenes. Picture Scott Merrylees

8 Feb 2017...... Dewsbury scenes. Picture Scott Merrylees

Ronnie Mitchell, 80, who lives on a nearby street but has been in the area for more than half a century, described the drama as ‘OK’ but said: “It was not done here, it was filmed in Halifax.”

Describing the time that Shannon went missing, he said: “I had my car hit by a council wagon, he was trying to get off the estate but all the cameras were there, he tried to reverse and reversed into my car.”

Another local, who called himself simply ‘Jay’, said: “I thought it was brilliant, it showed the community were all pulling together when it came to something serious rather than turning a blind eye.”

After last night’s episode, viewers heaped praise on Smith for her “stunning” portrayal of Julie Bushby, although a number of fans complained over the show’s “awful” Yorkshire accents.

Fans of Smith’s performance included I’m A Celebrity winner Scarlett Moffatt who wrote on Twitter: “I just love @Sheridansmith1 what a talented beautiful lady.”

Rob Stroud wrote: “Sheridan Smith demonstrating already what a fabulous adaptable actress she is in Moorside.”

Kenny Brockout said: “Sheridan Smith is an absolute belter the girl can literally play any character. Only 5 mins in and she has you glued.”

However others were disappointed at the cast’s attempts at a Dewsbury accent, with one deeming their efforts “bloody awful”.

Anna Harding wrote: “I’ve not been in West Yorkshire long, but I feel qualified enough to say the majority of accents on #Moorside sound borderline Scouse.”

Richard Harvey posted: “If you’re not from Yorkshire you can’t do the accent, shite acting,” while Elizabeth Courage wrote: “was Enjoying #Moorside and acting would be good but their accents are bloody awful”.

Smith has previously revealed that she grew close to Ms Bushby after spending time with her on the Moorside estate during filming last year.

The Moorside continues next Tuesday on BBC One at 9pm.

Julian Cadman

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