May 2012: Karen Matthews was living at the bail hostel in Reading after finishing her prison sentence
Vile mum of Shannon Matthews begins new life with a makeover
THIS is loathsome Karen Matthews — slimmer and disguised with a new short hairdo but still recognisable as the monster mum who staged the fake kidnap of her little daughter Shannon.
Cruel Matthews looked chuffed to bits when she went shopping yesterday sporting the striking makeover.
But despite her disguise and made-up face, the mum’s cover was blown minutes after she showed herself for the first time since she was freed from prison.
And a local living near the probation hostel where she is staying said: “She will now truly know she will never be able to escape the legacy of her wickedness.”
Matthews, 36, looked nothing like the “haggard” mother who staged the fake kidnap of her nine-year-old daughter Shannon in a callous bid to bag reward money.
Her transformation — aided and abetted by prison and probation authorities during her time inside — included the loss of her distinctive long red hair.
Karen in 2009
Instead she has locks dyed copper and cut in a trendy short style.
She has lost two stone and looks much slimmer.
Matthews has taken to caking her face in make-up in an attempt to cover up facial scars and moles.
And she gave off a glow of general wellbeing thanks to the cushy life she has enjoyed at the hostel.
The Sun understands probation officials have privately voiced concerns that despite her new look, Matthews would be unable to hide from the spotlight for long.
They were proved right even sooner than they feared.
Matthews, of Dewsbury Moor, West Yorks, was freed eight days ago from Foston Hall prison, Derbyshire.
She had served half her eight-year sentence for her wicked kidnap plot.
Aided by oddball accomplice Michael Donovan, (pic below) she spirited Shannon away and kept the bewildered little girl captive for 24 days.
She went on TV sobbing for her “little princess” and hoped to pocket a £50,000 reward put up by The Sun to find the “missing” child.
But cops found Shannon — drugged and tethered during her captivity — hidden in the base of a divan bed in 44-year-old Donovan’s flat.
After Matthews was freed she was chauffeured to the women-only hostel in the Home Counties in a private car — unlike other newly-released lags who use public transport to reach the halfway house. She was given a quiet garden room at the back of the building next to staff quarters, forcing another ex-con to make way.
Her digs, monitored by CCTV cameras, contained a comfy single bed, cabinet and wardrobe.
After settling in, mum-of-seven Matthews cautiously mixed with other residents, using the name Karen but claiming she was from Sheffield.
She was overheard chatting openly about her kids in a broad Northern accent.
And in an attempt to pass herself off as a model mum, she spent Easter Sunday crafting hand-made cards for her children in the hostel’s “quiet room”.
During her first few days of freedom, she was warned NOT to leave the premises under any circumstances.
Instead she spent time endlessly cleaning and polishing communal areas as bemused staff and residents looked on.
At other times she washed her clothes, played games on her mobile and watched TV on the hostel’s 52in plasma set.
But she aroused suspicions as she kept getting up to leave whenever news bulletins began.
Matthews always ate alone. And she only went outside for quick cigarette breaks in the back garden.
But earlier this week staff began to feel she was ready for an outing to boost her confidence as she prepares for her new life. And yesterday she emerged just after 10am with a female probation worker in tow.
After walking briskly past a police station, she stopped at a shop to spend £15 on two bottles of fruit juice, a packet of cigarettes, tobacco and a women’s magazine.
The whole outing took less than 15 minutes. But that was enough for her to be spotted — and recognised.
The astonished local said: “The level of preparation and time given over to Matthews and her rehabilitation is frankly extraordinary.
In fact, you would think she was a victim of an abduction, not the perpetrator.
“She had to serve only half her sentence and now she has been rewarded with a makeover and a shopping trip. It’s insane.”
It is thought Matthews may be moved now her new “identity” has been compromised.
But she will steer clear of Dewsbury Moor, where relatives and neighbours she conned with her deception are still filled with fury.
The Sun told last week how her cousin Susan Howgate, 43, had warned: “If she is stupid enough to come back to our estate, she’ll get her head kicked in. She is hated.”
Former friends revealed the mum — whose kids are by five different men — still thinks she has done nothing wrong.
During her time behind bars Matthews insisted she was innocent. And she said she wanted to go on Jeremy Kyle’s TV show to take a lie detector test to prove it.
How crime panned out
FEB 19 2008: Shannon reported missing.
FEB 20: Matthews makes emotional plea for daughter’s return.
MARCH 1: Sun offers £20,000 reward, later increased to £50,000.
MARCH 14: Shannon found by cops at Michael Donovan’s flat, less than a mile from her home.
MARCH 17: Donovan charged with kidnap and false imprisonment.
APRIL 8: Matthews charged with child neglect and perverting justice.
SEPT 5: Matthews charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
NOV 27: At her trial, sobbing Matthews denies kidnapping Shannon.
DEC 4: Matthews and Donovan convicted.
JAN 23 2009: Both get eight years.
APRIL 5 2012: Matthews is freed.
Kidnapping of Shannon Matthews
Shannon Louise Matthews (born 9 September 1998) (pic above) is a British girl who disappeared on the afternoon of 19 February 2008 in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, England. The search for her became a major missing person police operation which was compared to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. She was found on 14 March 2008 at a house in Batley Carr, a short distance from Dewsbury. The house belonged to 39-year-old Michael Donovan, uncle of Craig Meehan (pic below with Karen) – the boyfriend of Matthews’s mother. Meehan was convicted on several accounts of possessing child pornography.
Craig Meehan a supermarket fishmonger, was caught when police seized the equipment for examination during a 24-day search for the nine year old schoolgirl.
He had shared the house with Karen Matthews, 32, Shannon’s mother, on the Dewsbury Moor estate, West Yorkshire, for around five years. Meehan was convicted on 11 charges of possessing child pornography, relating to 49 images, after a five day trial at Dewsbury magistrates’ court. Some of the images, of children aged four to 16, were so indecent they were categorised towards the highest end of the scale.
Donovan – also known as Paul Drake – was arrested at the scene, and charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment. Matthews’s mother, Karen, was charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice on 8 April 2008. The joint trial of Donovan and Karen Matthews at Leeds Crown Court commenced on 11 November 2008 and concluded on 4 December with both defendants found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment, and perverting the course of justice. They were both given eight-year prison sentences
Before her disappearance, Shannon Matthews was last seen at 15:10 on 19 February 2008, outside her school, Westmoor Junior School, Dewsbury Moor, after a visit to the Dewsbury Sports Centre swimming pool. The school was about half a mile from her home.
The investigation was led by Detective SuperintendentAndy Brennan. The West Yorkshire Police questioned 1,500 motorists and searched 3,000 houses. By 5 March, more than 250 officers and 60 detectives were involved in the investigation, about 10% of West Yorkshire Police’s operational strength. This became the largest police search for a missing person since the Yorkshire Ripper investigation 30 years previously. Of 27 specialist victim recovery dogsin the United Kingdom, 16 were involved in the search.
The Sun newspaper offered a reward of £20,000 for information leading to Matthews’s safe return. It was increased to £50,000 on 10 March. A business in Huddersfield – nine miles from Dewsbury – offered £5,000.
The West Yorkshire Police created a web page, ‘Missing Shannon Matthews Appeal’, to assist in the search and on 7 March, used it to release a photograph of Shannon. The police released the 999 call made by Karen Matthews reporting the disappearance.An official website, ‘Help Us Find Shannon’, including the Shannon Matthews Appeal, was launched on 11 March. Both websites were removed following Matthews’s discovery.
A comparison was drawn between the publicity given to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann with a much lower level of publicity for Matthews in early March 2008. Roy Greenslade, in the guardian.co.uk blog, explained it by stating that “Overarching everything is social class” but added that Matthews going missing in the UK made a difference. The Independent took the same line saying “Kate and Gerry McCann had a lot: they were a couple of nice middle-class doctors on holiday in an upmarket resort… Karen Matthews is not as elegant, nor as eloquent”.
The Times noted that the local community had pulled together but that the hunt appeared less newsworthy than the most minor developments in the search for Madeleine McCann.The Brisbane Times said that Karen Matthews and Kate McCann represented two sides of the social class coin in Britain. The Daily Telegraph speculated that had Matthews been part of a middle-class family, in which articulate parents were conversant with the mechanics of mobilising a slick public awareness campaign, then more public attention would have been focused on the effort to find her.
On 7 March, Karen Matthews said on GMTV that her boyfriend Craig Meehan was not involved in the kidnapping and he “would not hurt anybody”. Meehan was defended by Shannon Matthews’s father, Leon Rose. Nonetheless, Karen and her boyfriend, in an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on 12 March, were questioned on suggestions by her parents that Meehan had been violent towards Matthews and on Karen having seven children by at least five fathers (two of the children were registered as having unknown fathers). Commenting on the interview, The Independent said that the case had developed a cruel overtone and that such questions went far beyond necessity and lifted the lid on an uncomfortable hypocrisy in British society.
West Yorkshire Police found Matthews alive at 12:30 on 14 March 2008, 24 days after going missing. She was concealed in the base of a divan bed in a flat in Lidgate Gardens, Batley Carr. Michael Donovan, 39, was arrested at the scene.
Matthews was placed under police protection by the West Yorkshire Police and cared for by the Social Services.The police exercised powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989 which allows a child to remain subject to police protection for 72 hours. Matthews ceased to be subject to police protection on 17 March 2008. Since then she has remained in the care of Kirklees Family Services on a voluntary basis.
On 15 March the police reported that Matthews had started on the road to recovery after her ordeal. Specially trained officers questioned her to establish what had happened. The questioning, which lasted for several weeks, took place in ten-minute sessions at a special children’s suite resembling a classroom.
Post-kidnap pre-trial events
Michael Donovan, uncle of Karen Matthews’ boyfriend, was charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment on 17 March 2008. Donovan appeared before Dewsbury magistrates on 18 March, and was remanded in custody. He appeared at Leeds Crown Court, via a video link from his prison cell, on 26 March. The provisional trial date was fixed for 11 November.
Craig Meehan was arrested on 2 April, on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children, after police had examined computers in the home.He was remanded in custody, by Dewsbury Magistrates Court, at a hearing on 3 April charged with 11 offences of possessing indecent images of children.On 18 April 2008 Meehan pleaded not guilty, and elected to be tried by magistrate rather than a jury. On 16 September 2008, Meehan was convicted by Dewsbury Magistrates of 11 counts of possessing child pornography, relating to 49 images of level one, two, three and four found stored on his computer after it was seized by police from the house he lived in with the Matthewses, on Moorside Road, Dewsbury. On the same day, he was sentenced to 20 weeks imprisonment. He was released that day as he had spent longer on remand than the length of the sentence.
Karen Matthews was arrested on 6 April on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. She was charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice, on 8 April. At a hearing on 5 September 2008, she was also charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
Amanda Hyett, Craig Meehan’s sister, was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender, on 4 April 2008.Alice Meehan, mother of Craig Meehan and sister of Michael Donovan, was arrested on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice, on 4 April. Both Amanda Hyett and Alice Meehan were released on police bail on 4 April but were rearrested with Meehan’s sister Caroline, on 10 April and held on suspicion of perverting the course of justice before being released on bail.
The police announced on 8 April that they were investigating approaches to the Madeleine McCann fund for money to assist the search for Matthews.
Karen Matthews was remanded to face trial alongside Donovan in November 2008.
On 24 September 2008, it was reported that Craig Meehan had attempted suicide more than once and his mother had talked him out of it.
Trial and convictions
In November 2008, the BBC reported that the trial heard evidence that Shannon Matthews had been drugged to subdue her whilst held. “The jury was told Shannon was drugged and restrained with a strap tied to a roof beam after her mother hatched a plan to make £50,000 from her faked kidnap. The jury was told Shannon was kept locked in a flat for 24 days by Michael Donovan, who police believe used an elasticated strap with a noose on the end to tether her when he went out.”
On 13 November, Detective Constable Mark Cruddace and Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan gave evidence at Leeds Crown Court. A forensic toxicologist told the court that tests on Matthews’s hair indicated she had been given Temazepam, for up to 20 months prior to her disappearance.
Michael Donovan claimed that Karen Matthews had asked him to look after her daughter for several days and that they would make money from newspaper rewards. He told the court that she had threatened him with violence.
On 27 November Karen Matthews gave evidence. Sobbing throughout, she denied having anything to do with her daughter’s disappearance, claiming that Craig Meehan told her to ‘take the blame’ for what had happened. She said she did so because she was scared of him.
In cross-examination, Julian Goose QC said that she had told police a total of five versions of the story and accused her of “telling lie after lie, after lie”.
On 4 December 2008 Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan were found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.The plan had been for Donovan to release Shannon Matthews at Dewsbury Market, drive around the corner to ‘discover her’ then take her to a police station and claim the £50,000 reward. This would then be split between Donovan and Karen. On 23 January 2009, both were sentenced to eight years in prison. Karen Matthews was released in April 2012 after serving half her sentence.