I’D forgotten how long it took for Karen Matthews to be arrested. The concluding scene of the first part of this drama seemed almost tantamount to a confession, as she stood gormless and unmoved when seeing her daughter for the first time in three weeks.
For someone who had proved herself a good actress during the search for Shannon, her improvisation skills apparently deserted her in the police station, where – assuming this is a truthful dramatisation of the real events – she failed to ask any questions about the girl’s wellbeing, or even where she was found.
It’s subsequently a frustrating watch as the police try to piece together what happened, leaning on Julie and Natalie for assistance solving a case that’s already cost millions. Surely there were phone records, or someone, somewhere who could provide evidence that Karen and Mick Donovan were in cahoots?
I was shocked by the scene where, following the arrest of her partner on charges of child porn possession, Karen was asked to “give up her children” on the flimsy basis that she, or they, might bear the brunt of the community’s anger at his offending. This surely cannot be standard practice in England? The implications for the willingness of child victims to report abuse by their carers would be terrible. The suggestion that a kinship placement was a non-starter is also baffling given modern social work thinking on the best interests of children.
This was an exceptional case, but it also seems bizarre that the police should have effectively banned Karen herself from Moorside for her own safety, despite her not having been charged with anything. All the while, Donovan was singing like a canary about her involvement in Shannon’s abduction.
When Karen finally admitted (to her friends, and the police), that she’d known where Shannon was all along, she still lied about her motives, saying she’d been trying to leave Craig. This leaves the most baffling question about the case unanswered – how on earth she thought she would not only get away with what she’d done but also profit from it.
It’s hard to believe Julie gave quite such a tour de force performance on the witness stand when asked a simple question about Karen’s character, but perhaps she did. The real woman’s collaboration with the BBC production team no doubt coloured how her role is portrayed here, but the decision to focus on her character was a good one. As the credits roll, it’s impossible not to wonder if the pair, despite Karen’s change of identity, are still in contact.