Mugshots and Motherhood: The Media Semiotics of Vilification in Child Abduction Cases

  • Janet Cotterill


The Shannon Matthews case was perhaps unique in British criminal history. For a period of several days, a young girl of 9 years of age was missing from home. During this period there was an unprecedented amount of both police and media attention devoted to the case, including TV appeals for her safe return and offers of financial rewards for information leading to her recovery. Ultimately, it emerged that the mother of the child had conspired with the child’s uncle, who had kidnapped her and kept her captive throughout the period of supposed disappearance. This article uses a corpus of newspaper articles gathered from both the period of the search and subsequently the trial of both the mother and the uncle, which resulted in convictions for both. It examines the representations of all of the actors in this scenario, both visual and verbal, in an attempt to elucidate the ideologies inherent in the case and the ways in which the victim and perpetrators were portrayed throughout the dramatic period of her disappearance.


Media representations Child abduction Newspapers Parental abduction Shannon Matthews 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Language and Communication ResearchCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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