Some last words on Karen Matthews.
It's therefore even less than helpful to use it to describe Karen Matthews, as Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan did today in what even if printed in the tabloids would appear hyperbolic. Matthews real crime, after all, was not abuse, although the apparent drugging of her daughter Shannon with the tranquilliser tamazepam on at least three occasions prior to her "abduction" might well indicate that and could well have been happening at a lower-level (or equally that Shannon herself had problems sleeping and was given it by her parents without consulting a doctor), but deception. All the more galling for everyone involved is that Matthews seems to have been able to turn her tears on and off like a tap, a consummate actor that could play people far above the level that most were ready to give her credit for. There were the indications, of course, and now with additional hindsight they will be all the more apparent, but Matthews more or less convinced everyone: the media, even if some sections of it hardly went out of their way and hardly hid their snobbery; the police, half the reason why Brennan doubtless described Matthews in the way he did, he himself being deceived by her; and indeed this blogger, who got his apology in early for monstering Allison Pearson over her criticism of Matthews' parenting.
The coverage in the press tomorrow will be doubtless all the more bitter, personal and hysterical because of how they themselves were fooled, although already some are claiming they moderated their coverage for fear of falling into "stereotypes", i.e. suggesting it was all Matthews' fault for acting like a stray bitch in heat and having so many different partners while daring to live on a council estate which the Sun, that bastion of working-class conciousness and pride, described as "like Beirut, only worse". The Grauniad, not known for mass working-class readership, had to do something approaching a more balanced view.
I wrote around the time that the press got bored with the idea that the McCanns were innocent bourgeois salts of the earth abroad that if it subsequently turned out that they themselves were involved in Madeleine's disappearance that the fury and hatred directed at them would be possibly beyond anything seen before, because of how they had been played, and while the coverage did subsequently turn, as the libel settlements have shown, none of the criticism which they faced, outside of the Express and Star and online forums, reached the contempt which some had for Matthews before anyone knew what had happened to Shannon. Some of that bile we have instead witnessed directed at those involved in the Baby P case, where "decent mums" without irony on social-networking sites discussed how they would torture his mother to death.
Should we take anything else from the Shannon Matthews case, apart from having our own perceptions and immediate reactions pulled out of joint, our trust in others' apparent grief and playing to the cameras made more circumspect and potentially cynical? If nothing else, we ought to at least take note of the way the Dewsbury estate pulled together in a way which those that talk about Britain being broken and how welfare dependency breeds idleness and fecklessness would not have expected: they searched high and low, held collections, distributed posters, taxi drivers waived fees and helped those searching get around and regardless of their effort, will almost certainly be tarred with the same brush as Matthews and Donovan now will be. They were duped like everyone else, or put their concerns to one side as even they could not imagine someone sinking so low. Evil was not involved, but introspection on all sides ought to be the order of the day.