Children who are victims of a step-parent’s cruelty are a familiar trope in TV drama, but Matthew Sally’s real-life experience is in another league.
In 2015, when Matthew was just ten, his stepfather Moussa and mother Sam decided to leave their comfortable life in the U.S. behind to join ISIS in Syria.
The first words we heard in voiceover at the start of Return from Isis: A Family’s Story (BBC1) were Matthew’s: ‘I was so young I didn’t really understand any of it.’
We saw footage of him (then renamed Yusuf), living in Raqqa, sitting crossed legged, head wrapped in a keffiyeh, assembling a suicide belt. ‘Is that your new toy?’ asks his stepfather off camera while pushing him to act out an attack on ‘American pigs’.
‘Don’t forget you have to wait until they get really close.’
In 2015, when Matthew was just ten, his stepfather Moussa and mother Sam decided to leave their comfortable life in the U.S. behind to join ISIS in Syria
This video — sent to his maternal aunt, apparently in an attempt to get her to send money — was the catalyst for this three-year investigation into how Matthew ended up at the heart of the caliphate.
We heard horrifying details of the family’s life: from a 17-year-old Yazidi girl bought by Sam from the slave market; from Sam herself, who says she was regularly beaten and once imprisoned and tortured when she was seven months pregnant. Another 14-year-old girl was taken as a sex slave for Moussa; the only moment Sam lost her composure was when she admitted being powerless to stop this.
On the phone from prison (where she is serving a sentence for supporting terrorism), Sam seemed without remorse.
She claimed she was tricked into crossing into Syria, after which Moussa, a well-off Moroccan who liked his cocaine, made his intentions about joining ISIS clear.
But none of it added up. The documentary never came close to explaining how or why Sam could have let this happen and the film-maker made his scepticism known.
Sam’s parents said she was smart and ‘always wanted more’. Her ex-husband said she liked fast cars and thrills. As if Raqqa was the place for that.
And what about her son, poor frozen-face Matthew — who admitted he cried ‘out of joy’ when Moussa was killed by a drone because it meant that he could be hidden in a barrel and smuggled towards home.
In Hospital (BBC2), the Bafta award-winning documentary series, all anyone wanted was to go home
What kind of mother was she? We got our answer at the end of the Panorama film, when we learned, shockingly, that it was Sam behind the camera, filming that chilling video of her son welcoming death.
As Matthew, now living with his real father, simply put it: ‘I feel sad that they would do that to a child’.
In Hospital (BBC2), the Bafta award-winning documentary series, all anyone wanted was to go home.
The Royal Free in North London specialises in kidney transplants and this episode focused on the surgeons delivering them — ‘you get home and everything hurts,’ said one exhausted medic after a seven-hour operation — and the patients desperate to get back to their normal lives.
Rachel received a new kidney nine years ago but had recently contracted sepsis, leaving her confined to hopsital with a tracheostomy (a tube inserted through an incision in the neck to assist breathing).
She celebrated her 30th birthday propped up among balloons while her husband of two years sang Happy Birthday on Zoom, and a nurse, in a mask and blue surgical gloves, cut her cake.
‘What did you wish for?’ asked the nurse.
‘To be at home,’ Rachel said. What else?