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Sheridan Smith to star in BBC docudrama about Shannon Matthews' disappearance

By Claire Cromie

Sheridan Smith is to star in a controversial BBC1 docudrama about the kidnapping of schoolgirl Shannon Matthews.

Two-parter The Moorside Project will see the Cilla actor will play the head of the local tenants' association, Julie Bushby, who led the community search for the missing nine-year-old.

Shannon Matthews disappeared from her home in Dewsbury Moor, West Yorkshire, in February 2008.

After a massive police operation she was discovered 24 days later at her stepfather's uncle's home, less than a mile away, in the base of a divan bed.

The youngster had been drugged and forced to adhere to a strict list of rules while held captive.

Her mother was jailed for her part in kidnap plot - hatched to claim a £50,000 reward offered by a national newspaper.

After news of the show's production was described as “inappropriate” by a local MP, the BBC has insisted it will focus not on the crime itself, but "on the community that lived through it".

Game of Thrones actress Gemma Whelan takes the role of shamed mother Karen, while former Downton Abbey star Siobhan Finneran will play family liaison officer Christine Freeman.

Sheridan Smith, best known for her roles in Cilla, Mrs Biggs and The Royle Family, said: “The story is a fascinating mixture of what I thought I knew and a whole lot more that I had no idea about.

"The themes of faith and trust in human nature, and the way the whole community came together really inspired me.”

Filming is due to begin in spring.

Karen Matthews, then 33, was jailed for eight years for her part in what a judge described as a "truly despicable" plot with Michael Donovan, in whose flat the youngster was found. Donovan, then 40, was also jailed for eight years.

Prosecutors said Donovan kept Shannon imprisoned as part of a plan he and Matthews hatched.

The ordeal has left Shannon "disturbed and traumatised" and suffering from nightmares.

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