Shannon Matthews' terrifying ordeal at hands of own family

When Shannon Matthews was discovered in the base of a bed following a massive 24-day hunt for her, it was the end of a terrifying ordeal for the nine-year-old at the hands of her own family.

The judge who sentenced her mother to eight years in prison for kidnapping her daughter said the youngster had been subjected to a "truly despicable" plot.

Mother-of-seven Karen Matthews had hatched a plan to stage her daughter's disappearance and keep her captive in the nearby flat of her then partner's uncle, Michael Donovan.

A jury was told how the pair's motive was to claim thousands of pounds in reward money.

Since her conviction, Matthews and her family were the subject of intense scrutiny - portrayed as the epitome of some of the worst problems facing British society.

Police said they believed she and Donovan may have been influenced by the coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance.

As the West Yorkshire force mounted a £3 million operation to find Shannon - its biggest since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper - she was kept prisoner in Donovan's dingy flat.

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.

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 had 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. The case was later dropped when it came to court.

Matthews, then 33, and Donovan, then 40, were found guilty of kidnap and false imprisonment of Shannon and perverting the course of justice in December 2008 at Leeds Crown Court following a dramatic three-week trial.

They both returned to the same court a month later when they were each jailed for eight years.

Both are still in prison.

At the sentencing hearing, the judge, Mr Justice McCombe, said: "It must be doubtful whether they (Matthews and Donovan) could have conceived or continued these offences without the assistance or connivance of others."

However, police said the case was closed and there was no evidence to bring anymore charges.

Shannon was interviewed for seven hours over five days but she was not called as a witness at her mother's trial.

The court was told the ordeal left Shannon "disturbed and traumatised" and suffering from nightmares.

After Matthews's conviction, Det Supt Andy Brennan, the officer who led the investigation, said Matthews had "totally betrayed" her daughter and condemned her as "pure evil".

The judge later said the comment was "unhelpful" while Frances Oldham, QC, for Matthews said her client was "not Myra Hindley or Rose West".

The Shannon Matthews case provoked worldwide interest and, within Britain, has been picked over at length by those looking for its wider implications.

Matthews - with her seven children to five fathers - has been regularly portrayed as the epitome of a benefit-dependent, sink estate slob.

Asked in court why she had left so many relationships, she said it was always the men leaving her.

Shannon was born in September 1998. Her father, Leon Rose, then 29, split up with Matthews when Shannon was about two. Mr Rose stood by Matthews during the search for his daughter but refused to elaborate on what went wrong in the relationship.

By February 2008, Matthews was living at 24 Moorside Road, Dewsbury Moor - a standard council brick-built semi which backs on to a grassy playing field.

She lived with 22-year-old fishmonger Meehan.

Matthews and Meehan each have vast, complicated families which detectives had not completely fathomed three weeks after Shannon vanished. One commentator said it was "not so much a family tree as a genealogical bramble".

Matthews has seven children, her parents have seven children and her sister has six children. Meehan has nine aunts and uncles - one of whom is Donovan.

She described an average day in her household as getting her children ready for school, watching Mr Meehan play on his games, surfing the internet and catching up on Jeremy Kyle on TV.

Tory councillor John Ward was forced to resign from Medway Council, in Kent, after he used Matthews as an example of "breakdown Britain" while advocating compulsory sterilisation for parents on benefits.

Matthews's relationship with Meehan began when he was not much more than a boy.

He was one of the youths who would hang out in the street outside her home while she was a mother of six in her late twenties.

After Shannon was found, Meehan was convicted of possessing child pornography on his computer.

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