There was a sense of collective shock and disgust when it emerged that Karen Matthews had drugged her own daughter, Shannon, and hidden her in the base of a bed in order to make it look like she had been kidnapped back in 2008.

Shannon was just nine-years-old when she suffered the horrific ordeal at the hands of the one person who was supposed to protect her.

Karen's reason for the callous act: publicity money.

It's a story that many of us are aware of and are now reliving through brand new two-part BBC drama, The Moorside, which looks at the role that the community played in trying to bring Shannon home, as well as the aftermath.

Credit: BBC

Karen has alleged that the drama has led to her receiving death threats, and it was recently reported that she had a hot pot of mushy peas poured over her head by an angry mum at a local fish and chip shop.

But while the nation has turned against Britain's 'most-hated mum', Julie Bushby, Karen's friend and the woman who spearheaded the community search for Shannon, has suggested that all is not as it seems, despite the case being closed.

Speaking to Mirror, the 46-year-old, who is played by Sheridan Smith in The Moorside, said:

I think there are at least three other people who know far more than they let on. This is a horrible conspiracy of silence and it's time for those people to speak out and tell the truth.
Karen was not intelligent enough to think it up on her own. I'm not saying at all what she did was right, or that she was totally innocent, but she's not evil.

Karen is a child in adult's clothing and easily used and manipulated.
This was never about the reward money, something else was going on. We need the truth now.

Credit: PA

Julie discussed how it was initially impossible for her to detect that there was anything suspicious happening because she was so concerned with finding Shannon. But the situation soon changed when the missing girl was found by the police:

When Shannon was missing I was busy in the community centre sorting out the posters and supporting Karen.

I was more concerned about finding Shannon and obsessed with keeping her name in the news. But after she was found alive I started to look at what had gone on.

I got straight on the computer to look at pictures of Karen and how she was when she made appeals. The first one seemed genuine but the one where she held a teddy bear up was weird. It just wasn't right.

Then you start thinking about how she was in the centre, laughing and joking when the cameras were not there.

I had more time on my hands so I started digging around. There started to be more talk on the estate. A lot of people were saying, 'There's more to this.'

There was something not right and we all knew it. Me and Nat (neighbour Natalie Brown) were talking about the doubts.

Credit: Sky News

Eventually, the truth emerged:

It wasn't anything in particular, it was just a feeling. Then one night Nat called me down to her house.

She told me she wanted to confront Karen but she knew she wouldn't meet her on her own, but that she trusted me.

I told her, 'Natalie wants answers.' But Karen was scared and said, 'She'll hit me.' I said, 'No you daft t**t I'll be there'. And she said, 'OK.'

I said, 'Right, Natalie's got some questions for you. Don't feel afraid because I'm here.' It was like I was good cop and Natalie was bad cop.

And she said, 'OK.' I went silent but kept my hand on her shoulder. I gave Natalie the nod and she went for it.

Natalie kept repeating the same thing. Then Karen let out a big sigh and it was like an explosion. A relief. She said, 'You're right. That's what happened.' It was like getting it off her chest.

The first thing I thought was, 'S**t.' S**t.' Me and Natalie looked at each other and thought, 'What now?'

Christine got out the car to phone in and I was consoling Karen. She cried all the way to the station but almost in relief. Natalie and Christine were talking between themselves.

I got Karen out of the car. I think I had to help her. I said to her, 'You're all right, I'll walk you to the cells or however far they let me. I'll always be your friend.

As we got inside and were separated she said, 'Love you Julie.' I said 'I love you too.' But I felt hurt and conned. She'd lied to me and I felt like I let everyone down.

Credit: PA

And even now, despite the fact that Karen and Michael Donovan, the uncle of Karen's partner, Craig Meehan, have both served time in prison for kidnap, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice, Julie is convinced that there is more to the story than meets the eye:

Every time I saw her I ­challenged her story. She would add little bits on and then take little bits off. We talked about her evidence in court. She didn't do herself any favours.

When she was asked, 'Did you make the child's tea every night?' and she said, 'Yes.' Bulls**t

She didn't do anything for those kids. Craig Meehan did it all. She was a really lazy mum. She was trying in court to paint herself as a perfect mother. Which was never going to work.

I challenged her but she told different stories. One minute there were others involved, the next people whispering behind her back planning things.

In court they made a big deal out of Donovan's low IQ but Karen's is really bad too.

I'd love to see her again and give her a cuddle. I think about her and what happened pretty much every day. But I will never stop until I know the truth.

The Moorside returns tomorrow at 9pm, BBC1.

Abby Robinson

Abby is a writer for Pretty 52. She's an animation enthusiast, daydreams about roaming the wild with all her animal friends, and is failing to conquer her trainer addiction.

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