I am as guilty as the next person of making snap judgements about people - usually not particularly flattering ones - and hoping to be proved wrong. When I first heard about a 9 year old schoolgirl called Shannon Matthews who went missing from her home in Yorkshire, at first I just thought the usual things about how awful these situations are, and waited for what I thought would be the sadly usual police report down the wires about finding a body.
Then I saw her mother. At 32 Karen Matthews is only two years older than me, and yet somehow she has managed to give birth to seven children with five different fathers (apparently the two who do share the same dad are known by the family as 'the twins' - despite not being anywhere near the same age). She was living with a 22 year old boyfriend who had been hit so hard with the proverbial ugly stick that it had clearly also knocked out any brains he might have started out with. They live on a run down looking housing estate and I have to admit, I thought, chavtastic.
So did the rest of the British press and there was much comment about whether Shannon Matthews was getting less publicity than Madeleine McCann (seriously. I thought the playground was bad enough. i didn't realise there was an A-list of missing children as well) because she was from a less affluent background. And wasn't as cute looking. It's possible, as horrible as that sounds.
Then they found Shannon, hidden in the bottom of a divan bed in her step uncle's house less than a mile from home. Wonderful. And then it got weirder... they wouldn't let her see her mum. Then the stupid stepdad was arrested for possessing child porn (not of the family). Then his mum and sister were arrested for assisting an offender, Shannon did see her mum and told her she didn't want to go home... and now her own mum has been arrested for perverting the course of justice.
Current thinking is that it may have been a money making scam - the McCanns say somebody had contacted them twice to ask, aggressively, for money for Shannon's family. Apparently there had been a similar storyline in an episode of an observant, funny British drama called Shameless, which is essentially about a chav family. Shannon's mum has confessed to knowing all along where her daughter was.
Who in their right minds could seriously contemplate staging the kidnap of their own child to make a bit of quick cash because they saw it on a tv show? It's so sordid and desperate and shallow and moneygrabbing that just writing about it makes me want to take a shower. The awful thing is that this mentality, education, situation is endemic in the UK. The teenage mums have spawned more teenage mums who in turn have spawned more... and there's not an ounce of intelligence between them. It's just terrifying. I suppose I must have had a lucky escape somehow.