Shannon 'abduction' mystery
SHANNON Matthews was still waiting to return home last night as police continued to investigate the alleged 24-day abduction of the nine-year-old.
Police said Shannon was "on the road to recovery" after her dramatic rescue on Friday, and defended the fact it had taken them more than three weeks to find the schoolgirl, even though she was a mile from her home.
Mick Donovan, the man arrested on suspicion of abducting Shannon, is the 39-year-old uncle of her stepfather. Donovan was said to be under assessment by police before he could be interviewed.
And questions were being raised last night over whether Shannon's disappearance was a straightforward case of child abduction. It was reported Donovan had been questioned about the possible involvement of other members of her extended family in her disappearance.
And a neighbour living close to his Lidgate Gardens address, about a mile from Shannon's home, reportedly told police she had heard a child laughing inside the flat. Another local claimed to have seen Shannon just 30 yards away from the house in which she was eventually found on the day she disappeared.
Last night, Shannon's mother, Karen Matthews, and stepfather, Craig Meehan, returned to their Dewsbury home after spending the previous night in a hotel, but hurried inside without talking to waiting neighbours or reporters.
Shortly after the return home, Matthews issued a statement, saying she was overwhelmed at being reunited with her daughter, and "just couldn't stop crying, knowing she's back where she belongs".
She added: "I never gave up hope and now she'll be able to
come home and sleep in her room again. We've got her new pink bedding, which she'll love."
Her biological father, Leon Rose, said he was "buzzing" at his daughter's safe return, and when he saw her he would "grab hold of her and give her a cuddle and tell her I love her. All that counts is that Shannon has been found safe and well."
An unsmiling Matthews and Meehan later posed outside their house in Moorside Road for newspaper photographers. They returned indoors without speaking.
A police source suggested officers would remain with them while Shannon was being interviewed. "We are trying to make sure, while Shannon is with us, that we have the family within our care," the source said.
Shannon had a brief meeting with her mother on Friday evening before being taken into protective custody under an Emergency Police Protection Order.
West Yorkshire police said interviews had started in an attempt to unravel her 24-day disappearance. A spokeswoman said specially trained officers had spoken to Shannon after she had eaten breakfast and played with a kitten.
"Shannon has had a comfortable and settled night and is starting on the road to recovery following her ordeal," she added. "She spent last night watching DVDs, has had breakfast this morning and has been playing with a kitten."
Shannon was discovered by police on Friday in the drawer of a divan bed after smashing down the door of Donovan's flat in the Batley Carr district.
Police yesterday rebuffed criticism of the time it took them to find Shannon so close to her family home. A local MEP demanded to know why Donovan had not been questioned sooner, saying that relatives were often involved in cases of this kind.
But police sources said there were "literally hundreds of people" in a "huge family network" that required a large amount of resources.
After Shannon's disappearance on February 19, officers began interviewing members of her immediate family and then widened the inquiry to members of the extended family. Police said claims they were tipped off earlier that Shannon was in Lidgate Gardens were overstated and did not directly point to the girl being hidden within the flat.
The charity Missing People claimed it had contacted police after receiving information suggesting Shannon may be there. But officers only visited Donovan's home to question him because he was the Meehan's uncle, a police source insisted.
Despite West Yorkshire police's defence yesterday over the time it took to locate Shannon so close to her home, Edward McMillan-Scott, Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, said statistics should have led police to check all family members more comprehensively. He said: "In more than three out of four cases like this a family member is involved so a thorough search would have included the suspect in this case."
McMillan-Scott said he had requested a meeting with officers in West Yorkshire. He also called for a more wide-ranging review of Britain's procedures for dealing with missing children, insisting that a system such as the "Amber Alert", which is used in the US, France and Belgium, would have meant Shannon might have been found within hours.
The system sees information put out on television, radio stations and motorway signs as soon as children go missing. More than 350 missing children in the US have been found alive since the system's introduction in 1998.
Part of the difficulty in pursuing the investigation is believed to have stemmed from the complex nature of Shannon's extended family. Matthews has seven children with five different fathers and police officers have spent considerable amounts of time tracking down the connections.
Shannon has one brother and five half brothers and sisters on her mother's side alone. Her latest partner is Meehan, a fishmonger 10 years her junior, with whom she has had another child, two-year-old Courtney.
'I don't like it here. I'm scared. I want to live somewhere else'
After wild celebrations at missing schoolgirl's discovery, MARC HORNE reports from Dewsbury, a town facing up to its demons
THE smiling face of Shannon Matthews stares out from dozens of leaflets which have been strewn across the Dewsbury Moor estate.
The torn flyers were discarded amid scenes of wild jubilation after the nine-year-old was found safe and well more than three weeks after she was reported missing.
The pieces of paper billow in the wind alongside crushed cans of Carling and Carlsberg, broken alcopop bottles and the charred remains of fireworks which were released by a community revelling in one of their own defying apparently insurmountable odds to be alive and in good health.
But now the party is over, and as the hangovers kick in, the residents of Dewsbury are left to puzzle over how the freckled schoolgirl was taken from them and how she came to be found in the base of a bed – alongside her alleged kidnapper – less than a mile away from her home.
As the sun struggles to penetrate a thick mist which looms over this troubled community, a group of youngsters – little older than Shannon – are left to tidy away the remnants of the impromptu street party.
One girl, a friend of Shannon's – dutifully sweeps up the discarded detritus with a small brush – and beams with joy about the excitement which brought camera crews from across the country and beyond to her estate for the first time.
"Our mams and dads are still in bed so we thought we would come down and start tidying up. It was crazy at school yesterday. The head teacher took us all in the assembly hall and told us that Shannon was safe.
"Everyone starting cheering, then a few of us starting crying. We never thought we would see her again."
Another youngster, a boy wearing diamond earrings and a shellsuit, pushes a broom alongside her. He looks around the area surrounding the Moorside Tenants and Residents Community Centre and sighs with a sadness way beyond his tender years.
In a bid to brighten up the surroundings, the council had painted bollards to resemble penguins and added in an incongruous roundabout.
The nearest takeaway advertises the speciality of the house: "kiddie's doner kebabs".
He asks where I am from and then enquires: "Do you have guns up in Scotland? We do here. They are all over the place. I don't like living here. I'm scared. I want to live somewhere else."
He stops sweeping and points to a lamp-post where he claims to have witnessed a brutal fight. Moorside Road, where Shannon lives with her mother Karen Matthews, is just a few minutes away.
A broken doll lies forlornly by the roadside. Loud techno music thumps from inside red-bricked houses. Many windows still sport posters featuring Shannon's gap-toothed smile. One has a crucifix stuck to the window pane. Another has a sign warning that it houses a Staffordshire bull terrier.
At about 10am, the adults start to emerge, many of them still in their nightclothes. The atmosphere is like the night after Hogmanay. A young man with a baseball cap and a tattoo on the back of his neck is finishing off his second lager of the day.
Outside Shannon's home, two police officers stand guard. The white net curtains of the semi-detached home remain firmly closed. Upstairs there is an England football flag alongside St George's Cross curtains.
A glimpse around the back of the red-brick home reveals little more. The area is littered with rusting bedsprings, empty petrol cans and discarded Disney video boxes. In the upstairs back window – clearly a children's room – a stuffed toy monkey clings tightly to multi-coloured curtains.
Back in the street, Petra Jamieson, best friend of Shannon's mother, lights a cigarette and shakes her head as she tries to come to terms with the events of the past few days and weeks.
The previous night she housed Shannon's brothers and sisters Tony, 11, Cameron, 5, and Courtney, 2, alongside her own four youngsters. With four adults there were 11 people staying in the tiny home.
Jamieson had spoken to Shannon's mother just a few hours earlier. "I asked if she and Shannon were all right and she told me that they were both doing fine. There were a whole load of emotions in her voice.
"Obviously she was overjoyed that Shannon was safe, but you could tell that she was affected by the fact that maybe she had been taken by one of her own."
She was referring to Mick Donovan, 39, formerly known as Paul Drake, Shannon's stepfather's uncle, who was allegedly found in the bed base alongside her. Tabloid headlines screamed about a classic abduction, but her mother's close friends and relatives are not so sure.
"Nobody knows what happened," said Jamieson. "We won't know until Shannon tells us exactly what went on. We have no idea whether she went willingly with him. She does know him and has been warned time and again about going away with strangers."
She added: "Karen told the younger ones that Shannon had gone away on holiday. They are too young to take it all in."
Vicky Saunders, 28, a neighbour of Karen Matthews, tried and failed to shed more light on the matter. "Shannon certainly knew the man who she was found with, but I honestly don't know how she came to be with him. He is from the other side of the family and I know next to nothing about them."
But Saunders rejected the idea that Shannon was troubled. "She is a very happy little girl and used to come to mine for juice and a chat after school. It wouldn't be like her just to up and run away."
And she paid tribute to her neighbours. "This community has its problems but we all pulled together over this. The women went out leafleting during the day and the men went out searching at night. Many women don't feel safe going out here at night."
Family friend Charlotte Thornton, originally from Kilmarnock, relived the moment when she discovered Shannon was safe.
"I was out at McDonald's down town and got a text telling me the good news. As soon as I read it, I let out a scream of joy. Afterwards I had a bit of a cry when it began to sink in. Nobody in the estate has had a proper night's sleep for months.
"We had all been bracing ourselves for the worst and couldn't believe that our prayers had been answered."
On her mantelpiece is a picture of Shannon along with the words: "Light a candle. Say a prayer for yourself and for the world. For those we love. Lighting a candle can say 'God please help' or 'Thank you Jesus'.
Then there is another telling glimpse into the reality of life for Shannon's family. The smiles disappear when it emerges no one knows the whereabouts of Shannon's 11-year-old half-brother Tony, who was being looked after by Jamieson and her family.
For a while the scene becomes tense and worry is written across faces. Police arrive at the scene.
Shortly afterwards, Tony emerges safe and sound, wearing his hoodie over his face to protect him from a phalanx of cameramen.
"He often goes wandering off," said one resident, who appeared perplexed by the brief panic that had gripped the street. "Tony likes to take off for a while but he always comes back. You don't have to worry about that one."
It is now shortly after midday. Across the road another mini-street party is getting under way, complete with pub-style pint glasses. Tiny toddlers with jam-smeared faces zoom around on micro-scooters and skates.
Reverend Canon Kevin Partington, rector of Dewsbury, admits the estate is "an area of acute social deprivation. You just have to walk through the streets to see that.
"It is a very volatile community and recently there has been a sense of helplessness and of anger."
His assertion that there is a strong heart in impoverished surroundings is backed by the fact that pensioner Winston Bedford pledged his life savings of 500 to assist in the search.
The eventual total raised paled in comparison to the 2.6m that was amassed in the first few weeks of the "Find Maddie" appeal.
Back at the community centre the pyramid of leaflets and lager cans is engulfed in flames, to cheers from watching youngsters.
Amid the flames, Shannon's delicate features soon vanish just as she herself did more than three weeks ago.
As the journalists from across the UK begin to pack up and prepare to head home, they are heckled by one indignant resident.
"Nobody listened to us before this happened and nobody will listen to us when you lot go home. You'll head back to London and forget we ever existed. We have to live here."
WHAT HAPPENED? THE QUESTION ON EVERYONE'S LIPS
Was she abducted?
This was the favourite theory although, unusually, there were no reports or sightings of suspicious strangers or vehicles in the area around Shannon's school, the last place she was seen before she disappeared.
Shannon vanished after leaving home that morning as normal for the short walk to her classroom. But although her mother, Karen, insisted she was happy at home, her biological father, Leon Rose, said his daughter had earlier written on her bedroom wall that she wanted to live with him in nearby Huddersfield.
This suggested that she may have gone missing while trying to find her dad.
As is usual in child abduction cases, members of the extended family and friends all came under suspicion, as most victims know the person who took them. At one stage stepfather Craig Meehan was accused by his wife's parents of driving Shannon away. He denied the accusations.
Last week Karen Matthews said in a radio interview that she believed that someone she knew had snatched her daughter to get back at her.
Why did it take so long to find her?
Despite a high-profile publicity campaign and the efforts of hundreds of police officers and volunteer helpers in a huge "girl-hunt", it was 24 days before Shannon was found, just one mile from her home.
With no forensic evidence to work with, police had to mount an old-fashioned doorstep inquiry.
Contrary to initial reports, police later said it was not a tip-off that led to them visiting the house in Lidgate Gardens. They said they had made a routine call to the address while working through a list of extended relatives and friends that comprised hundreds of people.
After getting no reply, they spoke to neighbours, who reported the unusual sounds of a child's footsteps in the flat above. The detectives then called in a specialist search team, including a dog trained to find people and human remains. After police broke down the door, they found Shannon and her suspected abductor in separate drawers of a divan bed.
Was there less effort put into finding her because of her working-class background?
West Yorkshire police deny this was the case. Officers combed through 2,000 homes, scoured the surrounding moorland, drained ponds, dug wasteland and searched bins. Half of the UK's victim recovery dog teams were dispatched to the area and detectives contacted more than 1,000 known sex offenders within a 25-mile radius. More than 1,500 motorists were questioned.
Why has she been placed under a emergency police protection order?
The effect of the order is to prevent Shannon from having any contact with her family until police have spoken to her about her ordeal. A police source said: "We need to start speaking to Shannon and find out what happened. It would be irresponsible to let her go back to her family just yet."
Will she suffer any psychological trauma?
Dr Lesley Perman-Kerr, a psychologist who has worked with kidnap victims for more than a decade, said it was likely that Shannon would suffer flashbacks that interrupt her usual activities, and that and recovering from her ordeal would take an immense amount of "tender loving care" to overcome.
"Shannon might be feeling disorientated, thinking everything seems a bit unreal," she said.
"People can feel emotionally numb after an abduction, some feel guilty for causing concern and many feel uncertain about what will happen next."
Perman-Kerr, who has also counselled hostages after their release, said above all the families of missing children who return home must keep calm and keep to regular activities. "Try to maintain a sense of normality and don't ask too many questions," she said.
"Also, I would suggest not allowing too many visitors into the family home, especially if they want to ask questions. It can overwhelm an already bewildered mind.
"Counselling should only come in when the victim is ready to talk."
What happens now?
Police will continue to question the 39-year-old man arrested on suspicion of the schoolgirl's abduction.
Other detectives, trained to deal with child victims and witnesses, will continue to interview Shannon about what happened during the 24 days she was missing. A police spokesman said: "This may be a long process."
Other members of the family may also face questioning, it was reported last night.
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