Missing: The contrasting searches for Shannon and Madeleine
Has class influenced the rewards offered and publicity given to two campaigns to find missing children? Cole Moreton goes to Dewsbury to investigate
Sunday 02 March 2008
Shannon Matthews has been missing for nearly two weeks now. Yesterday, her mother Karen made another plea for help in finding the nine-year-old girl, last seen walking home from school in freezing fog on the Tuesday before last. "Mother's Day is a day when every mum wants her children around them," she said in a statement released by the police. "Today, I don't want cards or presents, I just want my darling daughter home."
The Sun has put up a £20,000 reward. A disabled pensioner who wishes he could have joined the hundreds of neighbours out looking for Shannon in Dewsbury Moor, West Yorkshire, has said he will give his own reward. Winston Bedford, 66, can afford £500. His gesture is symbolic of the enormous effort local people have put into finding "Shan". But they are only too aware of the painful comparison with what happened in the last high-profile case of a missing little girl.
By the time Madeleine McCann had been gone this long last May, the reward was up to £2.6m. Sir Richard Branson, J K Rowling and Wayne Rooney had all contributed and appeals had been made by footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham. The world's media had set up camp at Praia da Luz in Portugal, and the four-year-old was known worldwide just by her first name.
Shannon's uncle, Neil Hyett, lives next door to her, and has had his house and garden searched. The media frenzy of last week bewildered him, but like many others in Dewsbury Moor he says he now wishes he could find a way to make it continue. "It's all gone quiet, hasn't it?" he said at the sparse community centre from which the leaflet and poster campaign continues to be run. "Last week, you couldn't park for television vans. Now they've all been sent away on other stories." Even The Sun's support yesterday caused disappointment. "I'm devastated, to be honest," said a coach driver, as others around him agreed. "That poster should have been on the front page." It was on page 17.
Shannon's mother Karen, 32, had been staying with friends as she couldn't bear to go back to their house. But she has moved back in now, with her children Tony, Cameron and Courtney, aged 11, five and two. They share the house with their stepfather Craig Meehan, 22, but Karen's other children are not with them.
Asked how Karen was, her friend Julie Bushby let a long silence fall before answering. "She has her moments every day when she can't stop the tears. How long can someone cry for?"
The closest the family and friends have got to sharing their story with sporting superstars is handing out leaflets before rugby league matches. Even that has been frustrating. "We went to the Leeds Rhinos match on Friday night, but it were crap," said Mr Hyett. "They wouldn't let us stand right by the ground."
There was support that night in the George – the pub close to the Matthews house – as big men in Leeds Rhinos shirts prepared to watch the match on the bar TV. Close to a sign offering pie and peas for £2 was another with the face of Shannon. "We know nowt about it," said one man, gruffly. "Nobody does," said his friend. "We mind though."
They do. Enough to volunteer to search the parks, hedges, back alleys and any other hidey-holes they could think of in sub-zero temperatures in those early days and nights. Police had to warn local men not endanger themselves, after they were seen climbing into building sites. The moor was searched, and a pond dragged twice. Sniffer dogs and a helicopter were brought out too while it was still hoped she had run off on her own. But the wind has been too fierce, the damp too invasive and the night chill too ferocious for that to be plausible now.
"It is a very volatile community," said Reverend Canon Kevin Partington, rector of Dewsbury, who spoke at a vigil last Tuesday night. "There is a sense of helplessness and ... not hopelessness, but anger, certainly. This is now looking as if it will turn out to be a tragedy. Nobody wants to acknowledge that, but the longer it goes on, the more ominous it looks. We must go on hoping, though."
Dewsbury Moor was "an area of acute social deprivation" he said. "You just have to walk through the streets to see that." The council has tried to make the estate nicer, with play areas and penguin statues, and the writing in the tarmac declares it a "Home Zone". But the signs are off the frames, and the trees hung with litter. Kids with hoods tied up tight stand on street corners, even in the rain.
Julie Bushby, who is also chair of the Moorside Tenants' Association, said the people of Dewsbury Moor had been misjudged: "Listen, we're not pissed out of us trees or high as a kite all the time, like they associate with council estates. Ninety per cent of people here work," she said. "We've all taken money out of us own pockets for this."
One leafletter last week said the effort was "just like the McCanns'... though their campaign is rich and to be honest we haven't got a lot here."
Kate and Gerry McCann had a lot: they were a couple of nice middle-class doctors on holiday in an upmarket resort. The sort of people many want to be, which led to commentators like Allison Pearson in the Daily Mail saying: "This kind of thing doesn't usually happen to people like us." Their friends had resources and played the media game expertly, releasing pictures and stories, bit by bit.
Back in Britain, within those first 12 days, the McCanns got Premier League footballers to wear Madeleine T-shirts and athletes to run in yellow ribbons. They asked for advice from the likes of Phil Hall, former editor of the News of the World. And there was another factor: Madeleine was cute, and Kate McCann good-looking. The cameras loved her, even when she broke down during a press conference, clutching her daughter's pink Cuddle Cat.
Karen Matthews is not as elegant, nor as eloquent. Middle England may not envy her life, or identify with it. But the 32-year-old looked as lost and in pain as any other mother would when she broke down in tears outside her home the day after Shannon went. "I'm begging you, baby, please come back," she said. But it seemed that almost as much attention was paid to the fact that Karen has had seven babies by five fathers. Shannon's dad Leon Rose left four years ago.
So the family is complicated, and working-class. The people of Dewsbury Moor don't have the connections, the finances or the know-how. "But we're not giving up," said Julie Bushby. "No way. Two children have gone missing, that's the point. Everyone feels the same when that happens: rich, pauper, whatever. Good luck to Kate McCann. It's the kids we're looking for isn't it? Not the mothers."
The last CCTV images of Shannon show her at Dewsbury swimming pool after a lesson on 19 February. She is wearing a puffer jacket with a fur-lined hood, blue school top and furry pink and grey Bratz boots. A coach took pupils from the pool back to school and she was seen setting off home. On Friday, her best friend Megan Aldridge said Shannon had been bullied at school: "The girl called her fat, ugly and stupid. I told her to leave her alone. Now Shannon's gone, I've no one to play with."
Yesterday, Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan made an appeal to people in Dewsbury Moor who might seen someone "behaving out of the ordinary".
Strange things have certainly happened. Last Saturday night, a 43-year-old local man was found on the grass outside his house, singing or moaning, "Jesus Christ." His hands had been nailed to two pieces of wood that resembled a cross. The man had a Shannon poster on his wall, but the police said they did not know of a link with her disappearance.
They said the same about a man who attempted to abduct a 12-year-old girl in Wakefield, 10 miles away, on the day Shannon went missing. She was also called Shannon. "It makes you think," said her mother. "Has he got something about the name?"
On Friday an officer close to the investigation denied the police had let things go quiet because they knew something they weren't saying. Further media events were planned for next week, he insisted. "Anybody here could have her," said Mr Hyett yesterday, looking around the community centre. "I could. She could." Some people might have thought him a suspect after his house was searched, but the police insisted it was routine. "You just don't know. We hope they've got a lead. We hope they find her. We think she's still alive... otherwise why would we do all this?"
Age: Four. Parents: Kate, 40, a GP. Gerry, 39, a cardiologist. Siblings: Twins, now aged two.
Home: Detached house, Leicestershire.
UK press stories after nine days: 465.
Rewards offered: £2.6m: the 'News of the World', Stephen Winyard, Philip Green, Simon Cowell, Coleen McLoughlin, 'The Sun', Sir Richard Branson, J K Rowling.
Public donations: £1.1m:
J K Rowling, Bryan Adams, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, John Terry, Phil Neville, David Moyes, the England cricket team.
Wikipedia profile: 2,182 words after nine days.
Age: Nine. Parents: Karen, 32, and Leon Rose, 29. Stepfather, Craig, 22. Siblings: Six boys and girls, from her mother's partnerships with five different men.
Home: Three-bed council house, Dewsbury Moor.
UK press stories after nine days: 242.
Rewards offered: £25,500. Made up of £20,000 by 'The Sun', £5,000 from Huddersfield firm Joseph International, £500 from Wakefield pensioner Winston Bedford.
Public donations: Thousands at most, including Leona Lewis.
Wikipedia profile: 151 words after nine days.
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