Dewsbury back in spotlight as BBC commits to controversial Shannon Matthews drama

THE BBC will go ahead with its factual drama based on the hoax kidnap of Dewsbury schoolgirl Shannon Matthews, it was announced today.

Shannon Matthews
Shannon Matthews

Shannon was nine when she disappeared from her home on the Moorside Estate in the West Yorkshire town in February 2008.

The two-part drama serial, The Moorside Project, will focus on the public response to Shannon’s disappearance and tell the story from the point of view of the community, the BBC said today.

Dewsbury, and the Moorside Estate, was put under the national media spotlight during the 24 days Shannon was apparently missing.

Karen Matthews during the search for her daughter. Photo: John Giles/PA Wire

She was discovered at the home of her stepfather’s uncle, Michael Donovan, less than a mile away from her home, where she had been imprisoned as part of a plan he and her mother Karen Matthews hatched to claim a £50,000 reward offered by a national newspaper. The youngster 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.

The drama, to be screened on BBC One, will be made by the team behind the acclaimed Appropriate Adult.

The BBC said is will reveal how a group of “ordinary women brought the community together as one” to try to find missing Shannon, and the impact on them when the truth was revealed that her disappearance was a sham and her mother knew where she was.

It will not portray Shannon’s abduction and Matthews herself will not be a central character. Last year actress Sheridan Smith was linked with the role of Shannon’s mother, but today’s announcement did not comment on casting, which has not yet begun.

Simon Reevell, then Conservative MP for Dewsbury, had earlier questioned whether the film should be made. He said last August: “I think it is right to ask whether the awful suffering of a child should be turned into ... entertainment and the BBC should think about whether this is the sort of programme they should want to commission.”

Mr Reevell said if the programme was accurate it should show the town in a good light as the community had united to try to find Shannon.

Writer Neil McKay, said: “This drama tells a story of people pulling together for the sake of a child. In a world where all too often our estates are written off, this drama challenges us to think again about this. We hope the drama will have something to say not only about this community, caught up in the events unfolding on their doorstep, but about our wider society too.”

Jeff Pope, executive producer, ITV Studios says: “At the time, the country held its breath when Shannon went missing. When she was found, the people of Moorside led the celebrations. The committed and passionate search mounted by local people had seemed to sweep away all the clichés and prejudices about estates like Moorside.

“But when the truth about what had happened was revealed, the sense of betrayal and bitter recriminations that followed threatened to submerge the estate. This truthful, unvarnished drama will take us inside the eye of the storm.”

Controller of BBC One Charlotte Moore said: “Drama has the ability to tackle sensitive subjects from different perspectives and consider the impact of a crime rather than the crime itself. This was an extraordinary story of our time that rocked a community and thrust it under the media spotlight. As a nation, we only ever saw it from one perspective and I hope this drama will capture what it was like to be at the centre of that community - how they responded and lived through it. On BBC One it’s important to bring human stories to life and allow the audience to come to their own conclusions.”

Filming will start later this year.