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'The Town That Dare Not Speak Its Name'
Dewsbury a symbol of all that's bad in 21st century Britain
Peter Hinchliffe (Hinchy)     Print Article 
Published 2008-04-14 04:22 (KST)   
Dewsbury Town Hall -- center of a once proud town.
©2008 Joyce Hinchliffe
It's time to grit my teeth and confess.

I was raised and educated in Dewsbury, the town seen as a symbol of all that's bad in 21st century Britain.

Shocking events have left some people unwilling to admit that they have links with the town.

The infamous Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, convicted of murdering 13 women, was questioned at Dewsbury Police Station after his arrest in 1981. He appeared before magistrates in a courtroom in Dewsbury Town Hall.

One of the four suicide bombers who took 52 lives in London in 2005 was a Dewsbury man.

On July 9, 2005, Mohammad Sidique Khan detonated a bomb on a Circle Line tube train, killing himself and seven others.

In that same month in 2005 a 12-year-old girl admitted hanging a boy of 5 from a tree before beating him with sticks and nettles. She wound string around his neck, stomach and genitals. The boy survived, but a shocked nation heard that he had been within seconds of dying.

Finally, on Feb. 9 this year, 9-year-old Shannon Matthews failed to return home from school.

West Yorkshire police launched their biggest ever search. Hundreds of officers combed the area for days. Divers explored a nearby river and canal. A helicopter repeatedly crisscrossed the district where Shannon lived.

Scores of people formed volunteer search parties, calling out Shannon's name day and night as they sought for clues as to where she might be.

The story of the missing child was front-page news day after day in Britain's national newspapers. TV and radio programs led with the search in their news bulletins.

Reporters repeatedly interviewed Shannon's mother, 32-year-old Karen Matthews, and her partner, 22-year-old Craig Meehan. Details of a disordered life emerged. Karen has seven children to five different men.

After 24 days of searching, at a cost of millions of dollars, police raided a flat (apartment) in Batley Carr, just over a mile away from the Matthews home. Shannon was found safe and well, curled up in a drawer that was part of a bed.

The occupier of the flat, 39-year-old Michael Donovan, was arrested and charged with falsely imprisoning Shannon. Donovan is the uncle of Karen Matthews's partner, Craig Meehan.

While being held in a jail in Leeds, awaiting trial later this year, Donovan slit his wrists. After being treated in hospital he was returned to the prison.

Residents on the Moorside estate where the Matthews family live -- around a mile from the center of Dewsbury -- organized a street party on the day when Shannon was found. Fireworks soared and champagne fizzed. TV cameras were on hand to record the event.

Days elapsed before Karen was allowed to see her daughter, who is still in the care of the local social services department.

As further details of a dysfunctional family emerged, rumormongers had plenty of material to feed on. Week by week there were new shocks.

Karen Matthews's current partner Craig Meehan was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography. Police found 130 indecent images on two computers seized shortly after Shannon went missing.

Meehan is in custody awaiting trial. Bail was refused.

Meehan's mother Alice, 49, and sister, Amanda Hyett, 25, were then arrested in connection with Shannon's disappearance and bailed out. Further investigations are carried out.

Shannon's mother has now also been arrested. Karen Matthews is charged with perverting the course of justice and child neglect.

Handcuffed and flanked by four security guards, she appeared in Dewsbury court four days ago. She spoke only to confirm her name and address.

Prosecutor Malcolm Taylor said Matthews was accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice between Feb. 18 and March 15 by repeatedly concealing information in relation to the whereabouts of her 9-year-old daughter Shannon during interviews and other contact with police.

Matthews is also accused of willfully neglecting or abandoning Shannon in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering.

Defense solicitor Roger Clapham said Matthews maintains that she had no idea where Shannon was and has no previous convictions. He made an application for bail, but this was refused.

District judge Richard Bennett remanded her in custody for her own safety, saying that feelings were running very high on the Dewsbury Moor estate.

Police posted notices appealing to estate residents to remain calm.

Dewsbury Minster, the oldest Anglican church in the area.
©2008 Joyce Hinchliffe

Dewsbury's two weekly newspapers this weekend expressed the shock of the town's 54,000 inhabitants.

Margaret Watson, features editor of the Dewsbury Reporter, a journalist I have known and respected for 50 years, wrote:

This week I spoke to a couple who left this town some years ago. They told me that they were now ashamed to tell anyone they came from Dewsbury.

I was about to protest -- as I usually do when anyone starts criticizing my hometown, but I had to pause and consider whether they had a point. In recent years several stories have brought infamy and scores of journalists to the town

The stage has been reached when national media no longer say "Dewsbury, near Leeds" or "Dewsbury, West Yorkshire," but simply "Dewsbury."

When you go on holiday this summer and people ask where you come from, will you say Dewsbury, or simply West Yorkshire?

Has Dewsbury become the town that dare not speak its name?
A boarded-up shop.
©2008 Joyce Hinchliffe

Margaret added that the facts of the Shannon Matthews story spoke for themselves:

The case has shone a light on dysfunctional families, areas of deprivation and anti-social behavior from louts enjoying their 15 minutes fame in front of the TV cameras. In addition, journalists have poured into town just at the moment of the greatest retail exodus Dewsbury has ever known. Boarded-up shops may be awaiting decisions that will spark much-awaited regeneration, but they are still boarded-up shops nonetheless.

But on the other hand, the town and its people have become the latest victims of the media machine, with its stocks in trade of distortion, cliche, stereotype and downright snobbery.
Flowers in the town center.
©2008 Joyce Hinchliffe

Danny Lockwood, editor of The Press, under the headline "A Laughing Stock," wrote:

You know it's big news when the sick jokes are being texted and e-mailed around the globe inside a matter of minutes. Hence the speed reports of Shannon Matthews' first words when found curled up in the drawer of Michael Donovan's divan "Nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine, one million -- coming, ready or not!"

Or the reverse one of that: "Shannon Matthews -- Dewsbury Moor Hide and Seek Champion 2008." And hot on their heels: "Ikea's New Drawer Bed: Guaranteed to Keep the Kids Quiet for Weeks on End."

The thing is, this entire shameful story is no longer funny.

Because the good, hard working, ordinary people of Dewsbury have been reduced to a national -- nay global -- laughing stock.
At one time Dewsbury, recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Deusberia and Deusberie, was known as a shoddy town -- and residents were not upset by the name. It was the center of the "shoddy" industry, the recycling of old woolen items by mixing them with new wool and making them into heavy blankets and uniforms. Generations of British troops have gone into battle wearing cloth woven on Dewsbury looms.

Almost all the town's textile mills have closed down, submitting to competition from the Far East. The commercial center of Dewsbury is somewhat run down now that its days of textile prosperity have faded into history.

The vast majority of Dewsbury folk are decent, hard-working folk -- appalled that the word shoddy may now be applied in its most derogatory sense to their hometown.

Town center statue -- a town that cares.
©2008 Joyce Hinchliffe

©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Peter Hinchliffe

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