1.Everyone shall possess the right to freely express and publicise his thoughts in words, images or by any other means, as well as the right to inform others, inform himself and be informed without hindrance or discrimination 2.Exercise of the said rights shall not be hindered or limited by any type or form of censorship Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, Article 37.º

Two mothers, two lost girls, one class system

by Julia May

MEET the two sides of the social class coin in Britain: Karen Matthews and Kate McCann. From parallel socioeconomic worlds, the two women are bound by the most traumatic experience a parent can have: the disappearance of a child.

Ms Matthews's daughter Shannon, 9, from West Yorkshire, has been missing since February 19. Madeleine McCann, who would now be four, vanished from her bed in Portugal in May last year. It is suspected that both were abducted.

The unkind have depicted the two mothers as Waynetta Slob - Britain's most famous underclass stereotype - versus Kate Moss - darling of the British glamour set. They have compared Ms Matthews's seven children by five fathers, and her 22-year-old boyfriend, with Mrs McCann's IVF-conceived twins and heart-surgeon husband.

The high-minded say these things should not matter; it is the missing girls that are important. But it has become clear that the perception of class does matter when trying to capture the public's imagination.

You may not have heard of Shannon Matthews. The little girl from an impoverished council estate in Dewsbury, in England's north, disappeared 3½ weeks ago as she walked home after a swimming class.

The police have deployed 350 officers and 60 detectives to the search, joined by innumerable local volunteers.

One big difficulty has been a lack of funding for a public relations campaign for Shannon. A reward of £25,000 ($53,967) has been raised, with The Sun contributing £20,000.

You may well have heard of Madeleine McCann, the toddler who vanished from a holiday apartment at Praia da Luz, Portugal. Her comfortable home in Leicestershire, in the East Midlands, was staked out by the media after her parents, Gerry and Kate, a GP, returned to Britain.

At this point in Madeleine's disappearance last year, £2.5 million had been raised, with celebrity contributions from Sir Richard Branson and J. K. Rowling. David Beckham publicly appealed. The McCanns' sophisticated media strategy involved daily briefings, a website, a private detective and a meeting with the Pope. Mrs McCann, lean, blonde and articulate, clutched her daughter's toy, and wore a yellow ribbon of hope.

A commentator in the Daily Mail wailed: "This kind of thing doesn't usually happen to people like us."

It was two weeks after Shannon's disappearance before her mother, 32, was put before the television cameras. With no make-up, hair askew, wearing a T-shirt saying "Help find Shannon", Ms Matthews looked the essence of working-class Britain.

But Shannon did not make the front pages: in the first 16 days of Madeleine's disappearance, 519 articles were written about her in Britain. By this Wednesday, 16 days after Shannon went missing, she had received only 111 mentions.

A former Daily Mirror editor and media commentator with The Guardian, Roy Gleenslade, said: "The mother [Karen Matthews] is unsympathetic. This is a dysfunctional family, and people feel, 'Does she not bring this upon herself?"'

But the McCanns, he says, represent the aspirations of Middle England. "It shouldn't matter. But it does. This is a really difficult thing for editors. They don't like talking about this aspect because it really does betray the unspoken way they make their mind up."

This is not the Britain Gordon Brown had hoped for under his leadership.

In his first Labour Party conference address as prime minister in September, he said: "A class-free society is not a slogan, but in Britain can become a reality … I say to the children of two-parent families, one-parent families, foster parent families: I stand for a Britain that supports as first-class citizens not just some children and some families, but [that] supports all children and all families."

He may have a long way to go. In a Guardian/ICM poll in October, nearly 90 per cent of respondents said that people were still judged by their class. The poorest people were most aware of its influence, with 55 per cent of them saying that class, not ability, affected the way they were judged.

But there has been a backlash. In radio talkback and online forums, people are criticising a perceived media prejudice on the abduction cases. In a forum on the Government's family support website, one parent said that the McCanns had been neglectful to leave their children alone in the apartment when Madeleine disappeared. "If they were from a sink council housing estate, and looked like [the boorish Little Britain TV character] Vicky Pollard, the press would have been screaming for their blood. So I do believe there is class bias happening here," the parent wrote.

Julie Bushby, who chairs the tenants' association on the estate where Shannon lives, said: "Listen, we're not pissed out of our trees or high as a kite all the time … 90 per cent of people here work."


  1. Video Maddie Vs. Shannon 2:34
    Madeleine McCann still makes headlines, but another missing girl is fading from public view.

    CNN's Emily Chang reports.

  2. Another mother same or better social class than Mc:


    ....."Goa mother 'may be investigated'
    Fiona MacKeown reportedly faces negligence inquiry......
    De acordo, A mesma medida tb. para os Mc!
    By Richard Alleyne and Pamela Timms in Goa
    Last Updated: 4:42pm GMT 11/03/2008

    The mother of a schoolgirl found murdered in Goa is going to be investigated for "negligence", authorities in India have said.

    Now Indian authorities, who Mrs MacKeown forced to treat the death as murder, have decided to question her over whether she was right to leave the teenager on her own.
    The Chief Minister of Goa, under pressure over allegations that his police force tried to cover up the murder, is reported to have said that Mrs MacKeown could be investigated for possible negligence..........."



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