Shannon Matthews kidnap: BBC drama The Moorside brings back memories of covering a case which gripped nation

Lauren Chadwick interviews Karen Matthews and Craig Meehan for the Dewsbury Reporter.
Lauren Chadwick interviews Karen Matthews and Craig Meehan for the Dewsbury Reporter.

Ask people nowadays about the disappearance of Shannon Matthews and they'll swear they knew all along that her mother was behind it.

Perhaps they are embarrassed to admit they believed, like the many people who searched day and night in freezing cold conditions, that Shannon had been snatched by a stranger on her walk home from school.

But I remember the constant chatter everywhere you went in Dewsbury about that poor missing girl, how dreadful it must be for her family and the fears so many held about what had become of her.

I remember an elderly lady telling me how she looked in all the hedgerows every day when she walked her dog, terrified at what she might find but equally worried that a vital clue could be missed.

And the pensioner who posted some of his savings to the family to help fund the search, only to later learn he had been duped.

If everyone knew her mother was behind it all during the 24 days before Shannon was found, they certainly weren't saying it in earshot of anyone from the local paper.

I was a trainee reporter on the Dewsbury Reporter back in 2008 and took the call from the police to say that our weekly press briefing was cancelled on February 20. The reason? We'd be getting details shortly about a nine-year-old girl who had been missing all night.

The scene in last week's episode of The Moorside which showed police fanning out across a field brought back vivid memories of the early days of the search as officers were drafted in from all over Yorkshire.

People were urged to check their sheds and garages in case Shannon had run away and was hiding close by.

But behind the scenes, police told reporters that the chances of Shannon being found alive were growing smaller as every hour passed.

The national media and regional daily papers had reporters virtually living on the estate, but our small weekly newspaper team could only afford to have a reporter pop up for an hour or so a day.

A colleague who interviewed Karen Matthews and her then partner, Craig Meehan, concluded that Matthews must have been sedated to stop her becoming hysterical when she left Meehan to do most of the talking.

In our minds she was the traumatised mum of a missing girl, not a conspirator in a kidnap plot who was afraid of giving the game away.

My first visit to the estate was the night when it seemed as if all of Moorside had turned out in their appeal t-shirts to march with a banner, another moment faithfully recreated in the BBC's drama.

And I remember watching the celebrations outside the community house on the TV news when I got home from work on March 14, the day Shannon was found less than a mile away from her home.

I had taken the first call to the office around lunchtime to say that she had been found, dutifully phoning the police afterwards but thinking it must be a hoax.

How could she have been just up the road in Batley Carr this whole time? And what did they mean she was hidden inside a bed?

A chaotic afternoon followed and while this most unexpected twist in the tale seemed beyond belief, it was nothing compared to what was going to come out in the days and months ahead.

Timewatch: How the Shannon Matthews drama REALLY unfolded

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