Shannon's mother arrested as abduction inquiry widens

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Police investigating the alleged abduction of Shannon Matthews have arrested her mother, Karen Matthews, and indicated for the first time they are investigating whether she and other family members could be implicated in the girl's disappearance.

Ms Matthews, 32, was arrested in Dewsbury late on Sunday night on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Her arrest came just two days after police arrested the mother and sister of 22-year-old Craig Meehan, Ms Matthews' partner.

Alice Meehan, 49, and Amanda Hyett, 25, were arrested on Friday but were later released on police bail. Like Ms Matthews, Ms Meehan was questioned on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice, while Ms Hyett was held on suspicion of assisting an offender.

Now sources at West Yorkshire Police have indicated that the arrests of Ms Matthews, Ms Meehan and Ms Hyett are linked to the earlier arrest of Michael Donovan, the 39-year-old man in whose flat Shannon was found.

The nine-year-old was found early last month – 24 days after she was reported missing – in the drawer of a divan bed less than a mile from her home in Dewsbury, west Yorkshire. Since her discovery, five members of her extended family have been arrested.

Mr Donovan, 39, was arrested on 14 March when Shannon was discovered in his home in Lidgate Gardens, Batley Carr. He has since been charged with kidnap and false imprisonment and is awaiting trial. Mr Donovan is the uncle of Shannon's stepfather, Craig Meehan, who was himself arrested last week and later charged with possessing indecent images of children.

Mr Donovan's charges are relatively straightforward and suggest the police's case is that he kidnapped Shannon and held her in his flat against her will. In relation to Ms Matthews and Ms Meehan, the arrests seem to suggest that they perhaps knew more about Shannon's disappearance than they told the police. And in Ms Hyett's case it would appear police are looking into the possibility she somehow helped Mr Donovan.

However, with regards to Mr Meehan, it has been said by police sources that his arrest, and subsequent charge in relation to possession of indecent images of children, was incidental to Shannon's alleged abduction.

Mr Donovan was treated in hospital over the weekend in what was described as a serious case of self-harm. He is currently on remand at Leeds Prison ahead of his trial which has been provisionally set for 11 November.

The Sun reported that he was taken to hospital after taking an overdose and slashing his wrists. A Prison Service spokesman would not confirm the details of the incident but said: "A prisoner from Leeds was taken to an outside hospital overnight after a case of serious self-harm. Staff responded to the incident promptly and with great professionalism."

Ms Matthews' cousin, Vicky Saunders, said the arrest had come as a shock to the community. "I was just shocked. I can't believe it myself," she said. "I was with Karen when Shannon first went missing, I went and helped, she was in a state."

Ms Saunders described Ms Matthews as a loving mother. "She loves all her kids no matter what. It's just upsetting," she said.

She added that the community was "sticking together like we did when she went missing." "Everybody is just all shocked and can't believe it. I'm still there for all the family and the kids," she said. "She knows I'm always here for her, being a cousin of hers. Unless anyone's been charged or proven I'm still sticking by everybody. We're still all friends on this street."