Note: Contains discussion of themes that some readers may find upsetting. Information from episodes 1 and 2 below.
There are a number of key individuals absent from The Disappearance of Shannon Matthews, a new two-part Channel 5 documentary series about the nine-year-old from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire who went missing back in 2008.
Shannon and her siblings, who have been granted lifelong anonymity, their mother Karen, her then-partner Craig Meehan and his uncle Michael Donovan, born Paul Drake, do not feature, as you'd expect.
Instead, it is the detectives who were involved in the investigation and several journalists who covered the case extensively that relay the events of the 24-day period during which the whereabouts of Shannon remained unknown.
Their insider knowledge is interspersed with archival news footage and photos, aerial shots of the Moorside estate where the Matthews lived and the surrounding areas, recreated scenes, and police interview tapes of Karen and Michael, who were both found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.
Michael claimed that Karen had orchestrated her daughter's abduction in pursuit of financial gain, threatening him with violence if he refused to comply.
Karen alleged that she was planning on leaving her boyfriend Craig and had needed Michael to temporarily look after Shannon while she ended their relationship. She later said that it was Craig who had devised the kidnap plan, but the police did not find any evidence of that, although he was convicted of possessing indecent images of children on a computer which the authorities seized from Karen's home.
What we, as viewers, get from the police and press accounts is both the granular detail – how the investigation, mammoth in scale, unfolded – and the mood of the nation.
There are still question marks surrounding Shannon specifically, such as what her days looked like during the more than three-week period she was imprisoned in Michael's flat. But the vital play-by-play of how the search for her unfolded is laid out in considerable detail.
Running alongside that is the emotional heart of this documentary, which lies with the people of Dewsbury, whose lives, in many ways, ground to a standstill from the moment Shannon vanished and, for some, have been irrevocably changed forever.
Julie Bushby, a friend and neighbour of Karen's relays her own memories of that period and the instrumental role that she played in the hunt for Shannon. She was the commander-in-chief and can be seen corralling the local residents into action in news footage, organising search parties and 'Have you seen Shannon Matthews?' T-shirts and flyers.
The community looked to Julie, and she – just as direct and decisive in her delivery now as she was back then – did not shrink but powered onwards.
The extent of her involvement in ensuring that Shannon remained top of the news agenda was well documented at the time and in 2017, when she was portrayed by Sheridan Smith in BBC drama The Moorside. She was relentless, which is an invaluable asset in a missing persons case. Julie's daughter Tiffany, who also appears in the documentary, discusses how her mum sacrificed valuable time with her own family in the hope of bringing Karen's child home.
When Julie hears a rumour that Shannon has been found alive, contrary to what they all believed, you can almost feel her heart racing as she relays the critical information to those around her. When she's informed that the news is correct, her joy is tangible, tears of elation and sheer relief streaming down her face, which makes the revelation about Karen's involvement all the more difficult to stomach.
"I felt shock, disbelief, angry that she'd wasted all that time, but also pity that she'd left it so long," says Julie. Almost 12 years on, her sorrow and bewilderment is still palpable.
"She was crying," says Tiffany. "I think my mum was so upset because she'd been played a fool. She'd organised so much... for it all to be fake, for none of it to be true. Me and my mum were heartbroken that night. And then we started to watch interviews back and go back over everything to see what we missed."
We've all replayed events in our minds in an attempt to find the data gaps and gain a greater understanding of how a particular moment came to pass. It's an intrinsic part of the human condition and while we're not given an extensive portrait of how Julie and her daughter coped in the aftermath, that remark from Tiffany is a window into what they, and countless others, would have experienced long after the guilty verdicts were delivered.
Another lesser known individual who features is Shannon's childhood best friend Megan Aldridge.
She describes how the pair instantly gravitated towards one another "from day one".
"We clicked," she adds. "We were like pretty much the same person. As soon as we saw each other, that's it, we'd run up to each other and pretty much jump on each other."
Megan discusses how herself and Shannon were often targeted by bullies at school, which drew them closer together, the duo seeking solace in one another. But that kinship and sense of belonging was cruelly snatched away from both of them.
The last time Megan saw her best friend was the day Shannon went missing. She spotted her walking home from school, but in a different direction to the one that she usually took and with that, she was gone. There has been no reunion since.
Following the news of Shannon's disappearance, a visibly distressed Megan, who would have been no older than ten at the time, appeared in a news report where she was asked to articulate how she felt by the reporter.
"I'm really, really sad," she said, in-between sobs, the gentle, child's tenor of her voice heart-rending in and of itself. "And if you know where she is just call and tell us where she is."
After watching that recording more than 11 years on, all she can muster is a shake of the head. The interviewer asks Megan if she's okay, but words escape her and she conceals her face with her hands before the scene fades to black.
The heartbreak that Julie's daughter Tiffany spoke of is once again laid bare, the scars of that traumatic ordeal deep-seated and permanent.
"It was upsetting and it still is knowing that I'm not going to see her," she says. "I literally lost my best friend, the only person I'd want to talk to and want to be around.
"I genuinely hope she's living the life that she wanted now. After everything she's been through, she deserves to be happy."
The Disappearance of Shannon Matthews continues on Thursday, February 11 at 9pm on Channel 5.
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