Kidnapping of Shannon Matthews

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Shannon Louise Matthews (born 9 September 1998) is a British girl who was said to have disappeared on the afternoon of 19 February 2008 in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, England at the age of nine.[1] The search for her became a major missing person police operation which was compared to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.[2] She was found on 14 March 2008 at a house in Batley Carr, a short distance from Dewsbury. The house belonged to 39-year-old Michael Donovan, uncle of Craig Meehan - the boyfriend of the kidnapped girl's mother, Karen. The kidnapping was subsequently discovered to have been planned by Karen and Donovan in order to generate money from the publicity. Donovan was to have eventually "found" Shannon, taken her to a police station and claimed the reward money, which would be split between Donovan and Karen.

Donovan - also known as Paul Drake - was arrested at the scene, and charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.[3][4] Matthews's mother was charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice on 8 April 2008. The joint trial of Donovan and Karen Matthews at Leeds Crown Court commenced on 11 November 2008[5] and concluded on 4 December with both defendants found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment, and perverting the course of justice.[6] They were both given eight-year prison sentences.[7] Karen Matthews's boyfriend Meehan was convicted on several accounts of possessing child pornography, discovered on his computer during the investigation, but otherwise unrelated to the kidnapping.[8]



Before her disappearance, 9-year-old Shannon Matthews was last seen at 15:10 on 19 February 2008, outside her school, Westmoor Junior School, Dewsbury Moor, after a visit to the Dewsbury Sports Centre swimming pool.[9] The school was about half a mile from her home.[10]

The investigation was led by Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan.[11] The West Yorkshire Police questioned 1,500 motorists[12] and searched 3,000 houses.[13] By 5 March, more than 250 officers and 60 detectives were involved in the investigation, about 10% of West Yorkshire Police's operational strength.[13] This became the largest police search for a missing person since the Yorkshire Ripper investigation 30 years previously.[2][14] Of 27 specialist victim recovery dogs in the United Kingdom, 16 were involved in the search.[15]


The Sun newspaper offered a reward of £20,000 for information leading to Matthews' safe return.[16] It was increased to £50,000 on 10 March.[17] A business in Huddersfield - nine miles from Dewsbury - offered £5,000.[18]

The West Yorkshire Police created a web page, 'Missing Shannon Matthews Appeal', to assist in the search and on 7 March, used it to release a photograph of Shannon.[19] The police released the 999 call made by Karen Matthews reporting the disappearance.[20] An official website, 'Help Us Find Shannon', including the Shannon Matthews Appeal, was launched on 11 March.[21] Both websites were removed after Shannon was found.

Media reaction[edit]

A comparison was drawn between the publicity given to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann with a much lower level of publicity for Matthews in early March 2008. Roy Greenslade, in the blog, explained it by stating that "Overarching everything is social class" but added that Matthews being taken hostage in the UK made a difference. The Independent took the same line saying "Kate and Gerry McCann had a lot: they were a couple of nice middle-class doctors on holiday in an upmarket resort... Karen Matthews is not as elegant, nor as eloquent".[22][23]

The Times noted that the local community had pulled together but that the hunt appeared less newsworthy than the most minor developments in the search for Madeleine McCann.[24] The Brisbane Times said that Karen Matthews and Kate McCann represented two sides of the social class coin in Britain.[25] The Daily Telegraph speculated that had Matthews been part of a middle-class family, in which articulate parents were conversant with the mechanics of mobilising a slick public awareness campaign, then more public attention would have been focused on the effort to find her.[26]

On 7 March, Karen Matthews said on GMTV that her boyfriend Craig Meehan was not involved in the kidnapping and he "would not hurt anybody".[9] Meehan was defended by Shannon Matthews's father, Leon Rose.[27] Nonetheless, Karen and her boyfriend, in an interview on Radio 4's Today programme on 12 March, were questioned on suggestions by her parents that Meehan had been violent towards Matthews and on Karen having seven children by at least five fathers (two of the children were registered as having unknown fathers). Commenting on the interview, The Independent said that the case had developed a cruel overtone and that such questions went far beyond necessity and lifted the lid on an uncomfortable hypocrisy in British society.[28]


West Yorkshire Police found Matthews alive at 12:30 on 14 March 2008, 24 days after going missing. She was concealed in the base of a divan bed in a flat in Lidgate Gardens, Batley Carr. Michael Donovan, 39, was arrested at the scene.[3]

Matthews was placed under police protection by the West Yorkshire Police and cared for by the Social Services.[29] The police exercised powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989 which allows a child to remain subject to police protection for 72 hours.[30] Matthews ceased to be subject to police protection on 17 March 2008.[31] Since then she has remained in the care of Kirklees Family Services on a voluntary basis.[32]

On 15 March the police reported that Matthews had started on the road to recovery after her ordeal. Specially trained officers questioned her to establish what had happened.[33] The questioning, which lasted for several weeks, took place in ten-minute sessions at a special children's suite resembling a classroom.[32]

A film of the search for Matthews, and her homecoming, was shown in an episode of the Channel 4 documentary series Cutting Edge on 20 March.[34]

Post-kidnap pre-trial events[edit]

Michael Donovan, uncle of Karen Matthews' boyfriend, was charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and committing acts tended to pervert the course of justice on 17 March 2008.[4] Donovan appeared before Dewsbury magistrates on 18 March, and was remanded in custody.[35] He appeared at Leeds Crown Court, via a video link from his prison cell, on 26 March.[36] The provisional trial date was fixed for 11 November.[36] He made an unsuccessful suicide attempt on 6 April.[37]

Craig Meehan was arrested on 2 April, on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children, after police had examined computers in the home.[38] He was remanded in custody, by Dewsbury Magistrates Court, at a hearing on 3 April charged with 11 offences of possessing indecent images of children.[39] On 18 April 2008 Meehan pleaded not guilty, and elected to be tried by magistrate rather than a jury. On 16 September 2008, Meehan was convicted by Dewsbury Magistrates of 11 counts of possessing child pornography, relating to 49 images of level one, two, three and four found stored on his computer after it was seized by police from the house he lived in with the Matthewses, on Moorside Road, Dewsbury. On the same day, he was sentenced to 20 weeks imprisonment. He was released that day as he had spent longer on remand than the length of the sentence.[40]

Karen Matthews was arrested on 6 April on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice.[41] She was charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice, on 8 April.[42][43] At a hearing on 5 September 2008, she was also charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.[44]

Amanda Hyett, Craig Meehan's sister, was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender on 4 April 2008.[45][46] Alice Meehan, mother of Craig Meehan and sister of Michael Donovan, was arrested on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice, on 4 April.[45][46] Both Amanda Hyett and Alice Meehan were released on police bail on 4 April but were rearrested with Meehan's sister Caroline, on 10 April and held on suspicion of perverting the course of justice before being released on bail.[47] Hyett and Alice Meehan were later released without charge, although Hyett was jailed the following year in an unrelated conviction for benefit fraud.[48]

The police announced on 8 April that they were investigating approaches to the Madeleine McCann fund for money to assist the search for Matthews.[49]

Karen Matthews was remanded to face trial alongside Donovan in November 2008.[5]

On 24 September 2008, it was reported that Craig Meehan had attempted suicide more than once and his mother had talked him out of it.[50]

Trial and convictions[edit]

In November 2008, the BBC reported that the trial heard evidence that Shannon Matthews had been drugged to subdue her whilst held.[51] Newspapers reported that "The jury was told Shannon was drugged and restrained with a strap tied to a roof beam after her mother hatched a plan to make £50,000 from her faked kidnap."[52] The jury was told Shannon was kept locked in a flat for 24 days by Michael Donovan, who police believe used an elasticated strap with a noose on the end to tether her when he went out."[53]

On 13 November, Detective Constable Mark Cruddace and Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan gave evidence at Leeds Crown Court. A forensic toxicologist told the court that tests on Matthews's hair indicated she had been given temazepam for up to 20 months prior to her disappearance.[54]

Michael Donovan claimed that Karen Matthews had asked him to look after her daughter for several days and that they would make money from newspaper rewards. He told the court that she had threatened him with violence.

On 27 November Karen Matthews gave evidence. Sobbing throughout, she denied having anything to do with her daughter's disappearance, claiming that Craig Meehan told her to 'take the blame' for what had happened. She said she did so because she was scared of him.

In cross-examination, Julian Goose QC said that she had told police a total of five versions of the story and accused her of "telling lie after lie, after lie".

On 4 December 2008 Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan were found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.[6] The plan had been for Donovan to release Shannon Matthews at Dewsbury Market, drive around the corner to 'discover her' then take her to a police station and claim the £50,000 reward. This would then be split between Donovan and Karen.[55] On 23 January 2009, both were sentenced to eight years in prison.[7]

Karen Matthews was released in April 2012 after serving half her sentence.[56] Donovan had already been released.[37] Matthews was given a new name for use in public, though authorities did not consider her mentally capable of maintaining a fully new identity, so she will retain her real name for engagement with officials.[57]

In the media[edit]

A BBC One Panorama special: Shannon: The Mother Of All Lies was broadcast on the night of the trial verdict, (4 December 2008), about the disappearance and investigation, featuring the testimony of friends of the family and the police. The special was watched by 5.6 million viewers.[58][59]

On 18 May 2009, an ITV programme, Tears, Lies and Videotape, documented cases of people who manipulated the media for their own personal attention. The Shannon Matthews case was the main focus of the show.

Comedy act Kunt and the Gang recorded a concept album based on the story, Shannon Matthews: The Musical, it went on sale in October 2010 on the Club Tuppence label.[60]

Serious case review[edit]

On 16 June 2010 the Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board report found that social services could not have anticipated the abduction of Shannon Matthews. It stated: "The Serious Case Review concluded that the historical and current knowledge available to professionals involved with this family could not have led them to anticipate the third child's abduction from her home or her mother's involvement in this. The only way to have avoided her abduction was through her prior removal from home under a Care Order and there is no evidence to suggest that this was warranted on the basis of professional knowledge about this case."[61]


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