The mother of Shannon Matthews was described in court as a "consummate and convincing liar" yesterday. The jury also heard prosecution allegations that she took part in a scheme in which her nine-year-old daughter was drugged and imprisoned as part of a plot to claim a reward for her return.
As hundreds of police officers and volunteers spent 24 days scouring the surrounding homes and countryside in an attempt to find her, it was claimed that Karen Matthews knew the child was being held in a nearby flat belonging to her partner's uncle, Michael Donovan. There the schoolgirl was allegedly sedated with the powerful prescription sleeping drug tema-zepam as well as travel sickness pills. She was most likely restrained with a long elasticated strap with a noose attached which prevented her leaving the house, the jury was told. Police found the strap knotted to a roof beam.
A scientific examination of her hair revealed that Shannon had been given temazepam for up to nine months prior to her disappearance, it was claimed. During her captivity she was forced to follow a series of rules, carefully laid out in a document found placed on top of the television set, which forbade her from making noise, leaving the flat or appearing in the windows, the court heard.
It was alleged she had been taken there by Mr Donovan as she returned from a school swimming trip in February. It was said that he lured her into his silver Peugeot with the promise that he was taking her to a fair.
Throughout the child's ordeal, her mother made a series of impassioned pleas to the media urging her daughter's safe return. It was also claimed she deliberately misled the police, feeding them false lines of inquiry and even giving officers one address where she said she had been told by a clairvoyant that Shannon might be found.
A crying and terrified Shannon was eventually discovered at the first-floor flat in Batley Carr, just a mile from her home in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, concealed inside a divan bed where Mr Donovan was also hiding. They were discovered after police smashed down the door to the flat.
A subsequent search showed the flat contained the "rules document", the Traveleeze tablets, a prescription for drugs, including temazepam, and a copy of The Sun newspaper displaying the £50,000 reward.
Opening the case for the prosecution at Leeds Crown Court, Julian Goose QC described the schoolgirl as the "innocent victim of the plan" which he called "as dishonest as it was wicked".
He said: "The other victims of the defendants' plan were the friends, neighbours and residents of the Dewsbury Moor estate who helped look for Shannon; the police and the emergency services who diverted substantial resources away from genuine investigations in the search for Shannon; the public at large who, through the television and press reporting, followed the day-by-day events until Shannon was eventually found, only then to discover that it had all been a lie, a trick and a deliberately false complaint."
The jury heard how West Yorkshire Police diverted massive resources into the search for Shannon. The force spent £3.2m on the operation, deployed 300 officers and searched 1,800 premises within a half-mile radius of the girl's home. At its height three-quarters of all the UK's specially trained police dogs were brought in to assist officers.
Ms Matthews, 33, and Mr Donovan, 40, sat in the dock, separated by a security officer, as the case against them was outlined to the packed courtroom. Both defendants deny kidnapping Shannon, who is now 10, and falsely imprisoning her. They also deny perverting the course of justice.
The jury was played the 999 call in which Ms Matthews reported the disappearance of her daughter. They were also shown a series of emotionally-charged media interviews she gave during the search.
Among the discoveries made at the flat was the long strap found hanging through the loft hatch. "It had a large loop at the end which, at full stretch, would reach around most of the flat but not permit anyone who was restrained by it from leaving through the front door," Mr Goose said.
"The prosecution say that it is a reasonable inference that Donovan, who had used other methods of subduing Shannon Matthews, had employed the strap to restrain Shannon when Donovan left the flat to go shopping."
The jury was told that following his arrest, Mr Donovan claimed he was forced to comply with Ms Matthews' plan because she had threatened he would be killed. But the court heard that he later told police: "Get Karen down here. We'd got a plan. We're sharing the money – £50,000." Mr Goose said Ms Matthews changed her story a number of times, blaming her live-in boyfriend Craig Meehan, who is also Mr Donovan's nephew, and others.
The jury was told that police became aware of inconsistencies in Ms Matthews' version of events during the hunt, though they continued to believe they were dealing with the genuine allegation. However, Natalie Brown, a friend and neighbour with whom Ms Matthews stayed while her house was being searched, noticed that she behaved differently away from the media. "She thought that she was acting, almost that she was pretending to cry when in public, while in private, away from the public glare, she behaved quite normally, laughing and joking and even play-fighting with Craig Meehan."
The case continues.
Shannon Matthews: 'The rules of her captivity'
When West Yorkshire Police raided Michael Donovan's flat in Batley Carr, they allegedly found a list of instructions on a television set. The list was apparently written to control Shannon Matthews and prevent anyone finding out she was in the flat. It read:
- You must not make any noise and bang your feet.
- You must not go near the windows.
- You must not do or get anything without me being there.
- Keep the TV volume low – only up to volume eight.
- You can play SuperMario and some DVDs and the CD music.