The writer behind a television drama about the hoax kidnap of schoolgirl Shannon Matthews says it will highlight how the community on her Dewsbury council estate “came together” after her disappearance.
Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Evening Post, Jeff Pope, who was behind hit blockbuster Philomena, has defended the project after a local MP questioned whether “the awful suffering of a child should be turned into entertainment”.
Mr Pope, whose other credits include ‘This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper’, said the Shannon docu-drama has not yet been commissioned by the BBC.
But he insisted it would would examine “the impact of the crime and not the crime itself” and would contain only “fleeting glimpses” of Shannon.
He said: “We are well aware it is such a sensitive subject and has to be handled carefully.
“The story we wanted to tell was the story of that estate. It was a huge story that dominated headlines. There were lots of prejudice and preconceptions about the people of Moorside.
“What we discovered was that Shannon’s disappearance was a trigger for so much good that came out of that estate.
“Really it is a story about how the community came together to try and find this little girl and so much good was done. People would spend long days at work and go out searching for her at night.
“I think the heart of the drama was what impact this had. It is a story about how they refused to buckle, there was so much good that came with the disappearance of Shannon. After the cruel way the truth was revealed they refused to let that good disappear.”
Mr Pope will be teaming up on the project with Neil McKay, who he worked with on the two-part ITV drama Appropriate Adult based on the true story of serial killer Fred West. The drama, which may cast actress Sheridan Smith as Shannon’s mother Karen, could be aired by the end of next year on the BBC.
Shannon was nine when she disappeared from her home in the Moorside estate in Dewsbury in February 2008, leading to days of intense media scrutiny.
She was discovered 24 days later at the home of her stepfather’s uncle, Michael Donovan, less than a mile away, where she had been imprisoned as part of a plan he and Shannon’s mother Karen hatched to claim a £50,000 reward.
Shannon had been drugged and forced to adhere to strict rules while held captive. Matthews and Donovan were both jailed for eight years but were released after serving half their sentence.
Simon Reevell, the Conservative MP for Dewsbury, said: “I think it is right to ask whether the awful suffering of a child should be turned into ... entertainment.”