Shannon case involved others, judge suggests

Mother and accomplice given eight-year jail terms
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The Independent Online

The judge in the trial of Karen Matthews suggested yesterday that others may have been involved in the hoax abduction of her daughter Shannon.

Sentencing Matthews, 33, to eight years in jail for her "truly despicable crimes", Mr Justice McCombe, said it was unlikely she and her accomplice, Michael Donovan, were intelligent enough to stage the hoax without outside help. However, he did not suggest who the accomplices could be.

Donovan, 40, was also sentenced to eight years in jail for the attempt to claim a £50,000 newspaper reward for the return of the missing nine-year-old, the search for whom cost police £3.2m.

Handing down sentence at Leeds Crown Court, the judge said Shannon was "disturbed and traumatised and frightened" by her 24-day ordeal last February after which she was found to have been drugged and tethered at Donovan's flat while police and the community searched for her.

"She appeared to relive her experiences and she often complains of having nightmares where she is being tied up," the judge said.

Turning to Matthews, he said: "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," he added.

But the judge said that though Donovan, the uncle of Matthews' former partner, and Shannon's mother were equally culpable, it was unlikely they could have carried out their plan 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," he said.

Matthews' former friend, Julie Bushby, who chairs the residents' association on the Dewsbury Moor estate where the family lived, said she believed the full story would surface.

"If Karen isn't going to break and say what the full story is, what can us little people do to help her? All it takes is for someone to have one too many and then the truth comes out."

Matthews and Donovan were found guilty last month of kidnap, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice. Shannon went missing on 19 February as she walked home from school. On 14 March, she was found in the base of a divan bed in Donovan's flat less than a mile from her home.

Police believe the pair may have been influenced by the coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance.