Shannon kidnap accused 'is a loner and fantasist'

Suspect was left cut and bruised after prison attack, court is told

The man accused of the kidnap of Shannon Matthews was described by his niece yesterday as a "loner" and "fantasist" as he sat in the dock, cut and bruised from an attack by a fellow inmate the night before, while on remand in prison.

Michael Donovan, 40, the uncle of the schoolgirl's mother's partner, was treated for cuts but not seriously hurt. It is understood that he was punched twice in Leeds prison. Police are investigating.

Yesterday he was back in Leeds Crown Court alongside his co-defendant, Shannon's mother Karen Matthews, 33, to hear the third day of prosecution evidence against him. The court had been told that Mrs Matthews was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character who showed public grief over her kidnapped daughter while privately behaving as though she did not have a care in the world.

The jury was told that Mr Donovan had changed his name from Paul Drake to match that of a character from the science fiction show V even though he already had a brother called Michael.

Giving evidence, Mr Donovan's niece Caroline Meehan described her uncle as "a bit creepy". She was asked by Mrs Frances Oldham, QC, who is representing Mrs Matthews, if she agreed with the description that Mr Donovan was "a loner, a strange character, a bit creepy and a fantasist". She replied: "Yes."

Ms Meehan told the jury that Mr Donovan was an almost daily visitor to her house in the weeks before Shannon's disappearance. He would come to help her mother, Alice Meehan, who was living there at the time. She said she saw little of her uncle in the 24 days when Shannon was missing.

The court also heard evidence that when Mr Donovan's marriage broke up he fought for custody of his two daughters "because he loved them".

Ms Meehan, who was arrested and questioned by police during the inquiry on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, agreed with Alan Conrad QC, defending Mr Donovan, when he said: "He loved them. They were taken into care after he fought for custody of them."

Mr Donovan and Mrs Matthews deny kidnapping and falsely imprisoning Shannon, who went missing from her home in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, in February, when she was nine. They also both deny perverting the course of justice.

A witness who lived below Mr Donovan's flat just a mile from Shannon's home, told the court she heard a toddler's footsteps and laughter in the defendant's flat during the time Shannon was missing. June Batley said she heard the noises on about three occasions. "We heard tiny footsteps which we thought was a toddler, not a nine-year-old. No way," she said. The missing girl was eventually found at the flat under a divan bed with Mr Donovan. She was allegedly kept drugged and tethered for 24 days against her will as part of a plot to cash in on a £50,000 newspaper reward for her safe return.

Ms Batley said she believed Mr Donovan had met a new girlfriend in the months before the schoolgirl's disappearance and the massive police search for her and assumed the "toddler" she heard was his new partner's child.

Asked if she ever saw a child, she said: "No. Never. Just heard laughter of a child. It only seemed like a young, young child." Ms Batley said that she knew Mr Donovan quite well because he would come to her flat for coffee and a chat. She agreed he suffered from a condition which meant his legs would give way and that he went to a special school and had learning difficulties.

She said he could be friendly at times, but could appear ignorant on other occasions. Asked about the time he lost custody of his daughters, she agreed that he was "devastated".

The case was adjourned until Monday.