Shannon Matthews case workers escape censure

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The Independent Online

Social Services did not fail Shannon Matthews because her abduction in a plot hatched by her mother to claim a £50,000 reward from a newspaper could not have been foreseen, an official report into the case has concluded.

A review by the Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board, established after Karen Matthews and the girl's stepfather's uncle, Michael Donovan, were jailed in 2008, found no evidence of systemic failure despite the involvement of 22 agencies over a period of 13 years in the family's affairs.

It said social workers, none of whom have faced disciplinary proceedings, could not and should not have acted to take the then nine-year-old into care before she went missing from her home in Dewsbury Moor, West Yorkshire, sparking a £3m police hunt. She was eventually discovered at Donovan's flat less than mile away hidden in a divan. Police found she had been drugged and possibly tethered during her captivity.

Although Shannon and her siblings' lives were characterised by periods of "neglectful parenting interspersed with periods of adequate parental care" no one could have predicted the events that were to unfold, it was claimed. The Matthews' home life was revealed as chaotic. Karen Matthews prioritised relationships with a string of men over the care of her children, who regularly missed school and were not adequately protected from potential abusers – although the level of care received by the youngsters from the mother-of-seven was considered "a fairly common problem", with 300,000 families displaying similar signs of low-level neglect, the report said. However it described the abduction plot as an "unusual, unexpected and challenging event".

The report's author, Dr Carole Smith, rejected claims by police that Matthews was "pure evil". She said there was a "bond of affection" between the mother and her children.

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