Shannon Matthews kidnap timeline – from last sighting to Karen’s lies exposed

It’s been exactly 12 years since Shannon Matthews went missing.

The nine-year-old schoolgirl was reported missing by her mother, Karen Matthews, that evening as the the community where they lived in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, banded together.

It was West Yorkshire Police’s biggest operation since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, abandoning murder inquiries to join the team while stricken friends and neighbours feared the worst.

Tearful Matthews pleaded for the return of her daughter in front of television cameras, but it was later exposed as an act.

After a desperate 24-day long search for Shannon in February 2008, she was found tied up and drugged inside the base of a bed in the flat of Michael Donovan, the uncle of her mum’s partner Craig Meehan.

Matthews and Donovan were found guilty at Leeds Crown Court of ­kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting justice in December that year. They served half of their eight year prison sentences.

Meehan had nothing to do with the abduction, but was sent to prison for 20 weeks after unrelated child sex abuse material was discovered on his computer.

Here is a look at the timeline of events after Shannon went missing.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 19

8.00am – Shannon leaves the house and sets off for a normal school day.

3.10pm – Shannon returns to school after a swimming trip with her class. This was the last public sighting of her until she was discovered at Donovan’s flat. Sometime after this she gets into Donovan’s Peugeot car.

4pm – Matthews goes to her neighbour Victoria Saunders’ house to tell her Shannon had not come home and begins a search for her daughter.

4.10pm: Matthews calls Shannon’s school asking if the bus has returned from the swimming trip.

6.48pm – Matthews makes a 999 call to the police and officers arrive within minutes.

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 20

More than 200 police officers join local people in an overnight search for Shannon in sub-zero conditions on what was the coldest night of the year.

By 7am, West Yorkshire Police believes the situation is so serious it brings in its Homicide and Major Enquiry Team to run the investigation under Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan.

The force launches a public appeal for help to find Shannon. Matthews was advised not to talk to the media and to leave all public communications to the police.

Matthews returns home and makes an emotional appeal on her doorstep in front of BBC reporter Mark Simpson.

“Shannon if you’re out there please come home we love you to bits we miss you so much,” says emotional Karen.

With tears in her eyes, distressed Karen put her hands on her face and adds: “We love you so much. Please come home Shannon.”

“She was told in no uncertain terms to let the police deal with the press side of things, that doing anything without their agreement could put Shannon’s life at risk,” said friend Natalie Murray in 2018.

“Then 10 minutes later I’m standing in the kitchen making the kids’ tea and Karen is on the telly doing a live interview.

“I went storming round and said, ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ And she just said ‘Please Natalie, don’t shout at me’.”

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 21

Mr Brennan says 250 uniformed officers plus 60 detectives were looking for Shannon and reveals a number of possible sightings of her on the day she vanished.

Local people hand out posters in Leeds appealing for help.

Shannon’s step father Craig handed out missing posters to shoppers in a Leeds shopping centre and wore a t-shirt with the printed message: “Have you seen Shannon Matthews?”

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 22

Police release CCTV footage of Shannon leaving the leisure centre on day she vanished.

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 24

Prayers are said for Shannon at a local church and the parents of Madeleine McCann post a message of support on their blog.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 26

Mr Brennan concedes Shannon “may have fallen into the wrong hands”.

Family and neighbours stage a vigil to mark a week since she disappeared.

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 29

Shannon’s best friend Megan Aldridge, nine, gives an interview saying she is “really, really sad” and says she saw her walking the wrong way from school.

SATURDAY MARCH 1

Matthews issues a Mother’s Day message to Shannon and a newspaper offers a £20,000 reward.

MONDAY MARCH 3

Matthews makes an emotional appeal at a police press conference clutching Shannon’s “Love Teddy” and says she can’t trust those close to her.

Matthews’ pleaded for the return of her “beautiful princess daughter”, which along with the teddy was a red flag for Natalie Murray.

“She’d never called Shannon a princess. Someone must have told her to say that,” said Natalie in 2018.

“The teddy wasn’t Shannon’s. She came down the stairs with it before the press conference and I asked if it was Shannon’s. She said ‘I don’t know’.”

TUESDAY MARCH 4

A further police appeal reveals detectives still have not found Shannon’s swimming kit and officers are planning to search 3,000 local homes.

Local vigil to mark second week since Shannon vanished.

WEDNESDAY MARCH 5

Craig Meehan gives an interview denying any involvement in his stepdaughter’s disappearance.

“Me and Shannon have always got on well,” Meehan says.

“We have a real good laugh together. She likes jumping on me and trying to beat me up.I don’t see myself as her stepdad. She’s my daughter.”

Asked about people pointing the finger at him, Craig says: “I don’t care what they think. I just want Shannon back.”

Matthews defends her then boyfriend, claiming she was certain he was not responsible for Shannon going missing.

Police release a recording of part of the 999 call Matthews made reporting Shannon missing.

TUESDAY MARCH 12

Police say they are using 16 out of the UK’s 27 “victim recovery dogs” – or body dogs – in the operation and it is the biggest West Yorkshire Police investigation since the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry.

A newspaper increases its reward to £50,000.

FRIDAY MARCH 14

12.45pm – Detective Constable Paul Kettlewell and Detective Constable Nick Townsend call at Donovan’s flat in Lidgate Gardens, Batley Carr, and get no response despite neighbours saying he is in. They call for back-up from the Operation Support Unit.

1.20pm – When the extra officers arrive, they smash their way into the flat and find Shannon 24 days (23 days, 18 hours and 22 minutes) after Matthews’s 999 call. She is found hidden in a bed alongside Donovan who was arrested after a struggle.

1.34pm – Donovan tells PC Matthew Troake “Get Karen down here, we’ve got a plan” in the police van after his arrest.

2.25pm – Donovan is “booked in” at Halifax police station.

A huge celebration begins in Dewsbury Moor. Leon Rose said being reunited with his daughter would be like “winning the lottery”.

MONDAY MARCH 17

West Yorkshire Police chief constable Sir Norman Bettison rebuffs criticisms that Shannon should have been found earlier and praises Det Con Kettlewell and Det Con Townsend.

Donovan is charged with kidnap and false imprisonment.

TUESDAY MARCH 18

Matthews is interviewed under caution by detectives and denies any involvement in her daughter’s disappearance. She dismisses Donovan’s accusations against her.

Donovan appears before magistrates in Dewsbury.

WEDNESDAY MARCH 19

Matthews holds a tree planting ceremony in the garden at Moorside Road to celebrate Shannon being found.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 2

Meehan is charged with possessing indecent images of children and is later remanded in custody by magistrates.

SUNDAY APRIL 6

Matthews is arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice by Detective Constable Christine Freeman after Matthews admits she knew where Shannon was all along.

Breaking down, Matthews claims she had asked Donovan to look after Shannon as part of a plot to get away from Meehan but “everything went wrong”.

TUESDAY APRIL 8

Matthews is charged with perverting the course of justice and child neglect.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 9

Matthews makes her first court appearance at Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court. After this she tells a security officer Shannon’s disappearance was planned by Meehan and other members of his family.

THURSDAY APRIL 17

Matthews is interviewed again by detectives. She produces a prepared statement in which she again blames Meehan for Shannon’s disappearance.

FRIDAY APRIL 18

Meehan denies child sex abuse imagery charges at Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court.

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 16

Meehan is found guilty of 11 counts of possessing child abuse imagery, relating to 49 images found on his computer, including some with children as young as four.

On a scale where one is the least serious and five is the most serious, the court heard Meehan was found guilty of possessing 30 images at level one, 10 images at level two, two images at level three and seven images at level four.

Meehan was sentence to 20 weeks in prison but he was released because he had already spent longer on remand.

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 11

A jury is sworn in to try Matthews and Donovan on charges of kidnap, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 4

Matthews and Donovan are found guilty of all charges.