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'Despicable' mother jailed over Shannon kidnap

The mother of Shannon Matthews was jailed for eight years today for her role in the kidnap of her own daughter.

Karen Matthews, 33, of Moorside Road, Dewsbury Moor, West Yorkshire, was sentenced at Leeds Crown Court after being found guilty last month of kidnap, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.

Her former partner's uncle, Michael Donovan, 40, was convicted of the same offences and was also jailed today for eight years.

Nine-year-old Shannon was found in Donovan's flat in Lidgate Gardens, Batley Carr, West Yorkshire, 24 days after she went missing in February last year.

Shannon, now 10, went missing on February 19 last year as she walked home from school near her home in Dewsbury Moor.

West Yorkshire Police launched a massive search operation costing almost £3.2 million - one of the largest conducted by the force.

On March 14, Shannon was discovered in the base of a divan bed in Donovan's flat less than a mile away from her home.

It was revealed that Donovan kept her imprisoned as part of a plan he and Matthews hatched to claim a £50,000 reward offered by a national newspaper.

Police believe the pair may have been influenced by the coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance, which was a high-profile news story in the months before Shannon went missing.

After she was recovered, Shannon was found to have traces of the "potent hypnotic" drug temazepam and travel sickness medication melcozine in her system.

It was believed that both Matthews and Donovan gave the girl the drugs in an attempt to keep her subdued and drowsy and that she could have taken them for up to 20 months before her abduction.

Donovan forced Shannon to keep to a strict list of rules and officers discovered an elasticated strap in the loft of his flat, which was believed to have been used to tether the young girl when Donovan went out.

Matthews told five versions of what happened to Shannon, ranging from being a distraught mother whose daughter had gone missing to blaming the crime on her former partner Craig Meehan and other members of his family.

Donovan, who has convictions for arson, shoplifting and criminal damage, claimed he was terrified of Matthews and said he was threatened that he would be killed if he did not comply with her plan.

It emerged in court that Donovan abducted one of his own daughters after he became involved in a custody battle with his former wife.

Last month, Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan, the officer who led the investigation, said Matthews had "totally betrayed" her daughter and condemned her as "pure evil".

Following the trial, Kirklees social services announced an independent serious case review into the dealings agencies had with the family of Shannon.

The judge, Mr Justice McCombe, said: "The offences that you committed were truly despicable.

"It is impossible to conceive how you could have found it in you to put this young girl through the ordeal that you inflicted upon her.

"It is incomprehensible that you could have permitted your friends, neighbours and in your case, Matthews, even your children to sacrifice time and energy in extensive searches for the supposedly missing child."

The judge said it was doubtful Matthews and Donovan could have planned and carried out the kidnap without other people.

He added that he would not draw a distinction between the two of them in their sentences.

He said: "In my judgment, their culpability is the same.

"In saying that, having regard to their low intellect, as emerged in evidence at trial and in the pre-sentence reports, it must be doubtful whether they could have conceived or continued these offences without the assistance or connivance of others.

"The pre-sentence report in Matthews' case comments that neither defendant seems to have the cognitive ability to devise and orchestrate such an elaborate offence with any degree of likelihood of success."

Mr Justice McCombe continued: "It is argued for both that they were not of sufficient intelligence to conceive and implement this plan without the involvement of others."

The judge said that although Shannon was not physically harmed during the time she spent at Donovan's flat, her experience must have been "highly disturbing".

He said: "It is clear as a matter of common sense that it must have been highly disturbing to a nine-year-old child to be removed suddenly from her normal environment, her school, her siblings and her friends, without knowing when, if at all, she would be returned."

Mr Justice McCombe commented on a report made about Shannon since her recovery.

He said it stated that Shannon was "disturbed and traumatised and frightened" after her ordeal.

Reading from the report, the judge said: "She appeared to relive her experiences and she often complained of having nightmares where she is being tied up.

"Shannon will need periods of psychotherapy followed by individually-based therapeutic interventions to help her to recover from her experiences."

Matthews and Donovan were each handed concurrent sentences of six years and three years for kidnapping and false imprisonment.

They were given an additional two-year sentence, to be served consecutively, for perverting the course of justice.

The pair were told they would serve half of their total sentences before being released on licence and that the time they spent on remand would count towards their time in jail.

Mr Justice McCombe said that, although all the charges were serious, he thought the offences of kidnap and false imprisonment should attract longer sentences.

He said: "The offence of perverting the course of justice is, of course, also serious, but in my view distress caused to a nine-year-old girl outstripped it in seriousness."

Speaking about the offences of kidnap and false imprisonment, the judge said: "The offences were clearly serious ones. They involved the forcible or fraudulent abduction of a young child, with the consequences to her that I have related."

He added that the plan had resulted in the "huge expenditure of public resources and the putting at risk of intrusive criminal processes a very large number of innocent victims".

Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan, the officer who led the investigation, said the case was now closed.

He said: "If new evidence comes to light, it will of course be investigated.

"We considered all the evidence, including what Shannon said, with the CPS and concluded there was not sufficient evidence to charge anybody else."

Mr Brennan added: "This sentence fairly reflects the nature of the offences committed by Matthews and Donovan.

"It should serve as a deterrent to anyone else considering doing anything so reckless and underline what the consequences will be."