The mother of a 9-year-old English girl has been found guilty of kidnapping her own daughter in order to claim reward money for later finding her.
Karen Matthews, along with Michael Donovan, the uncle of a former partner of Matthews, were both convicted of kidnapping and imprisoning Shannon Matthews for 24 days in Donovan’s apartment in a market town in the north of England. The child was tied to an elastic strap to restrict her movements and had been drugged with a tranquilizer and travel sickness tablets.
Following their conviction at Leeds Crown Court, prosecution lawyer Malcolm Taylor said:
"The cynical plot culminated in Matthews' television appeals for the return of her daughter, made while she was actively concealing the whereabouts of the child from the police, who were deploying huge resources to search for Shannon.
"In the words of prosecuting Counsel, she lied, lied and lied again – to the police and, through the media, to the public, while Donovan was holding Shannon at his flat, drugged and helpless, less than two miles from her home”.
Shannon Matthews disappeared in February after a school swimming outing. The case attracted huge media coverage in the UK, with the girl’s mother making numerous emotional appeals for her safe return. Many local residents were mobilized into extensive searches for Shannon and a massive police operation ensued costing more than £3 ($4.4) million.
Police were notified of Shannon’s whereabouts following a tip-off by one of Donovan’s relatives, as well as neighbors’ reports of strange noises from the flat. The drugged child was found hidden inside a bed base in the flat. The court heard how they had planned to release her in the market of local town Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and then claim that Donovan had found her and claim the £50,000 ($75,000) reward offered by a national newspaper
In court Matthews, 33, denied the kidnapping and tried to blame the crime on her former partner, Craig Meehan, and other members of his family. Donovan, 40, claimed that he was scared of Matthews and had only agreed to take Shannon because he feared for his life. Both face substantial custodial sentences.