Shannon Matthews documentary: Chilling story of how a mum kidnapped her own daughter for cash in a sick sympathy plot

WHEN Shannon Matthews turned up alive and well 24 days after she went missing in 2008, you'd imagine her mum would've been relieved.

But Karen Matthews knew she was about to be found out – because she'd kidnapped her own nine-year-old daughter.

Karen, along with Michael Donovan, her partner's uncle, cooked up the evil plot to make cash from the publicity when Shannon vanished.

They dreamt up the twisted scheme less than a year after Madeleine McCann's disappearance became international news.

After a vast £3.2million manhunt, cops found Shannon drugged and hidden in the base of a divan bed at Donovan's flat in Batley Carr, West Yorks.

Now a new C5 documentary, The Disappearance of Shannon Matthews, will tell the story of how the desperate search for the missing child unfolded.

Here's the disturbing truth of how Shannon was horrifically exploited by her own mum – who shamelessly played on public sympathy by posing as a worried parent.

'Heartbreaking' disappearance

The moment Karen Matthews called the police to report Shannon missing, there was no going back.

It was February 19, 2008, when Karen tearfully told the 999 operator Shannon hadn't come back home from school, which was around half a mile from their home in Dewsbury, West Yorks.

A vast search for the missing Year Four schoolgirl was triggered using 10 per cent of all of the local police force's operational strength.

Some 3,000 homes were searched and big cash rewards were offered for any information that could lead to Shannon's safe return.

The Sun offered £20,000 initially, but upped the reward to £50,000 when Shannon had been missing for 20 days.

No one was more outspoken in the campaign for the public's help than Karen, who leveraged sympathy by appearing to be living through every parent's worst nightmare.

In one interview with a local paper, Karen spoke about being unable to go in Shannon's bedroom, which she'd shared with her two-year-old sister Courtney.

Karen also described Courtney's daily cries for her missing sister.

“You hear her shouting for Shannon," Karen told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"It is heartbreaking. She doesn’t understand as much as the other kids but she is starting to realise Shannon has been gone a long time.”

Despite her professed heartbreak, Karen knew exactly where Shannon was all along.

'Nobody thought we'd see her alive again'

Karen had planned to "find" Shannon after a certain point – but cops beat her to it.

Twenty-four days after Shannon went missing, two detectives broke down in tears after they found the schoolgirl alive having believed she was probably dead.

Shannon was found under a bed at Donovan's flat, a mile from her own home, on March 14, 2008.

Donovan was also hiding under the bed when cops smashed into his flat.

Detective Constable Paul Kettlewell told The Mirror:“I was elated. I couldn’t believe we’d found her and she was alive.

"As we went down the stairs it was like carrying my own child.

DC Nick Townsend, who was with Paul when Shannon was found, added: “Nobody ever thought we’d see Shannon Matthews alive again, so to see her in the arms of PK…

“It’s hard to describe the emotion. You just want to cheer. I can’t describe anything other than euphoric.”

Donovan was arrested at the scene.

In a twist, Karen's partner and Donovan's nephew, Craig Meehan, was found to have child sex abuse images on his computer during police's search for Shannon.

He was convicted later in the year for the offences, but he had nothing to do with Shannon's disappearance.

With Donavon in handcuffs, investigators' suspicions soon fell on Karen too.

When police told her Shannon was still alive, Karen didn't even ask how she was – it was like she already knew.

Drugged and restrained with noose

Karen was arrested and charged with child neglect, kidnapping, perverting the course of justice, and false imprisonment.

At trial, one hideous revelation after another about what she and Donovan subjected Shannon to came out.

The little girl had been drugged with temazepam – a powerful sleeping pill –along with travel sickness tablets.

She'd also been restrained with an elasticated strap tied to a roof beam that had a noose on the end.

Donovan would use the strap to keep Shannon tied up whenever he went out.

They also made Shannon follow a list of "rules" including "you must not make any noise or bang your feet" and "you must not go near the windows".


His and Karen's ploy was to eventually let Shannon out of the flat where she'd been locked up and then "discover" her, claiming the £50,000 cash reward for themselves.

In December 2008, the jury found Karen and Donovan guilty and both were sentenced to eight years in prison.

Karen was released in 2012 after serving half her sentence after Donovan had already been released at an earlier date.

Since then, Karen got engaged to paedophile Paul Saunders and the couple were spotted flat-hunting in December 2020, the Mirror reports.

Shannon was given a new identity and was sent to live with a new family.

The Disappearance of Shannon Matthews is on Channel 5 tonight and tomorrow at 9pm

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