There used to be a time, not long ago, when young children could play in your neighborhood, half-a-mile from the safety of your front yard, and still be safe. Yet the world of today is a dangerous place for a child, even the world just outside your door.
It was a cold February day and nine-year-old Shannon had just left her school, Westmoor Junior School in Dewsbury Moor, England, after taking a winter visit to the Dewsbury Sports Centre swimming pool. But that was the last time anyone had seen her…
The school that Shannon disappeared from was only about half a mile from her home. The afternoon wore on and at about twenty after five in the evening, Shannon’s mother, Karen, decided it was time to start worrying. She called the West Yorkshire police to let them know that her daughter had never returned home from school.
The West Yorkshire Police came out in force. More than 200 officers began to canvas the neighborhood and questioned 1,500 motorists. 60 detectives searched 3,000 houses, 16 specialist victim recovery dogs were sent into the area, but there was no sign of nine-year-old Shannon. The disappearance began to make headlines almost immediately…
The media picked up the story and ran with it. People were so touched by the missing girl that Sun newspaper offered a reward of 20,000 pounds for information leading to Shannon’s safe return. The generous reward was even increased to 50,000 a few weeks later. Even small businesses wanted to help find Shannon and offered rewards. A business in Huddersfield offered 5,000.
People began comparing Shannon’s disappearance to that of the infamous disappearance of little Madeleine McCann. Yet the media response to Shannon was still much lower than it had been with cute, blonde Maddie McCann. Many people assumed it was based on Shannon Matthews social class…
Regardless of the media bias, people were still determined to do their best to help find Shannon, who had been missing for almost a month. People began to suspect that Karen Matthews’ boyfriend, Craig Meehan, a less-than-stellar member of the community, might be involved. But Karen and Shannon’s birth father, Leon Rose came out on TV and told the world, he would not hurt anybody.
Parents of the Year
The doubts about Meehan’s conduct towards Shannon were not unwarranted of course. There were many accounts by neighbors and friends who spoke of Meehan being violent towards both Karen and Shannon on more than one occasion. Karen Matthews herself was also the mother of seven children by at least five fathers, two of them unknown. They were not parents of the year…
On March 14, nearly a month after she went missing, West Yorkshire Police got a tip that Shannon was closer to home than anyone suspected. They found her concealed inside the base of a divan bed in a flat in Lidgate Gardens. The owner of the flat, 39-year-old Michael Donovan, was arrested at the scene.
Shannon bounced back from her ordeal fairly quickly and the very next day, she was brought before officers to question her as to what had happened. They wanted to establish a timeline between when she disappeared and when they’d found her. It was going to take time though, and they had to be careful not to traumatize her further…
Shannon wasn’t returned to her parents right away. There was just something off about their story that made police a bit skittish. Instead, Shannon Matthews was placed under police protection and put in the care of the local social services department. She had three square meals, clothes, medical care: everything she was slightly lacking at home.
Drugged and Restrained
A medical examination of Shannon revealed that the poor girl had been drugged and strap tied to a roof beam during the course of her imprisonment. It seems that in order to keep her subdued and quiet, Donovan had to resort to desperate measures. She was tied to an elasticated strap with a noose on the end to tether her whenever her captor went out…
As it turned out, the whole “kidnapping” had been planned from the start by Karen Matthews and the alleged kidnapper, Michael Donova. The plan was to generate money from the publicity until they made enough to “find” Shannon, then split the take. And despite her assertions that Meehan had no part in the kidnapping, he did indirectly…
You see, Karen’s partner in crime, Michael Donovan, was actually Meehan’s uncle. Donovan, also known as Paul Drake, was arrested at the scene, and charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment. Karen Matthews was brought in and charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice soon after…
Mastermind though Karen Matthews was, she still needed accomplices besides Donovan to make the whole plan work. One of whom was, Amanda Hyett, Meehan’s sister, who was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender. Even Meehan’s mother, Alice Meehan, was arrested on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. But what about Meehan himself?
Crimes a’ Plenty
As for Craig Meehan, he may not have been part of the kidnapping but was far from innocent. In the course of the investigation, police seized his computer and found a stash of child pornography contained within. He was convicted of 11 counts of possessing child pornography and sentenced to 20 weeks imprisonment….
The joint trial of Michael Donovan and Karen Matthews began in November of 2008 at Leeds Crown Court. Both defendants were tried together and in no time at all, were found guilty. They were ultimately charged with the same three crimes: kidnapping, false imprisonment, and perverting the course of justice. They were both given eight-year prison sentences
As for Shannon Matthews, she never went back to Meehan or her remaining family members. Instead, she was eventually adopted by a family whose only desire was to protect her and keep her safe. She has since been living out her life happily ever since. As for her other siblings…
The case of the Matthews children was taken very seriously and was widely believed to have been a failure on the part of social services. A Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board investigated the whole ordeal and their report found that social services could not have anticipated the abduction.
In the aftermath of the trial, revelations about Shannon Matthews’ life became a focal point of the media. She and her siblings were described as living in a “dysfunctional family where children equalled benefits” and frankly, given their mother’s reasons for her falsified crime, it was a hard claim to dismiss…
Karen Matthews was eventually released from prison in April of 2012, she had only served half her sentence. Donovan himself had actually been released a few years earlier. Eventually, Matthews was given a new name for use in public, in order to avoid any reprisals.
It must be understood that the authorities issued her a new public identity only begrudgingly. They would have gone so far as to give her a completely new identity if they believed her to be mentally and psychologically capable of maintaining it. In the meantime, she will retain her real name for any dealings she had with officials.