The mother of Shannon Matthews sobbed as she took the witness stand yesterday, saying she was "disgusted" at allegations she had anything to do with her daughter's disappearance.
Karen Matthews, 33, rejected claims she was an "accomplished liar" as she wiped tears from her eyes. She repeatedly denied drugging or hiding the nine-year-old in order to claim a £50,000 reward for her safe return.
She told Leeds Crown Court that she loved her children but was the victim of an abusive relationship with her live-in partner Craig Meehan. She is accused, with Mr Meehan's uncle Michael Donovan, of falsely imprisoning Shannon and perverting the course of justice. Both deny the charges.
Ms Matthews said Mr Meehan's behaviour changed dramatically after the birth of her youngest daughter, although he remained fond of Shannon. "He was violent, abusive and aggressive," she said. "He used to punch and kick me, things like that," she added.
She said she had lied to police during an interview in which she told detectives she never considered leaving Mr Meehan, claiming he had sought to persuade her to take the blame for Shannon's 24-day disappearance.
"I was too scared to leave him. He told me if I left him he would tell people I was an unfit mother and have my children taken away," she said. Asked by her barrister Frances Oldham QC why he had asked her to take responsibility, she said: "I had no convictions and I was female and I'd get off lightly."
But in cross-examination, Alan Conrad QC, for Mr Donovan, accused Ms Matthews of play-acting, "Just as it was a staged performance during the three-and-a-half weeks your daughter was missing. You can play for the cameras and play for the court, can't you?"
Before her client took the stand, Mrs Oldham warned the jury that Ms Matthews had been "demonised". Urging them to base their judgment on the facts of the case before them, "not just smear, not just injustice, not just prejudice". She added: "The media has decided that Karen Matthews is guilty, the police have decided that Karen Matthews is guilty.
"It would be easy to approach Karen Matthews' evidence on the basis she's a liar. She has been demonised in the media and you could be forgiven for expecting the worst from her."
Ms Matthews described her shock on learning that her daughter had been found at Mr Donovan's flat in Batley Carr less than a mile from the family home in Dewsbury Moor, West Yorkshire in February. "At first, I was overwhelmed, knowing she'd been found safe and well," she said. "I was just happy she was found."
Ms Matthews told the court that Mr Donovan, 40, had offered to let her and her children stay at his home after she had argued with Mr Meehan following his father's funeral last year. She said Mr Donovan was "disgusted, because I didn't take up his offer". She said she had never visited his flat.
Describing her daughter as a happy girl, she said Shannon had left the house on the morning of her disappearance saying, "See you at tea time. Love you, bye".
The case continues.