Clutching a small teddy bear, a stoic Karen Matthews looked toward the camera, dark circles under her eyes, her long red fringe falling down the side of her face.
“If somebody is out there that has actually got Shannon, he’s just broken the family that we had apart. The family don’t feel safe anymore. Her brothers are asking for her all the time, her sister’s crying. Half the time I cry myself to sleep… Whoever has got Shannon, just please let her go. Her family is missing her, all her friends are missing her at school.”
Pulled over her clothing was an oversized while t-shirt that pleaded in black block letters, “Have you seen Shannon Matthews?”
But it was all a front. Karen’s nine-year-old daughter wasn’t missing, there was no panic, no distraught tears at bedtime, not even the small teddy bear was real (“She came down the stairs with it before the press conference and I asked if it was Shannon’s,” a neighbour since told the BBC. “She said ‘I don’t know’.”)
What was real, though, was the reward money.
It was on the evening of 19 February, 2008 that Dewsbury Moor woman Karen Matthews phoned emergency services to report her daughter missing - last seen near her school at 3:05pm, she never made it home. With the disappearance of Madeleine McCann fresh in the British public's minds, police, media and the West Yorkshire community mobilised in the quest to find the little girl. T-shirts and posters were made, and appeals were established. More than 200 police officers -- roughly ten per cent of the West Yorkshire force's manpower -- were assigned to the case, and together they stopped more than 1500 motorists and searched more than 3000 homes.
The Sun newspaper pledged £20,000 (AUD$35,900) for information leading to Shannon's safe return, which it increased to £50,000 ($89,800) as she approached 20 days missing.
But despite the local interest, columnists and social commentators lamented the lack of public attention being given to this working class family's plight; a stark contrast from the headlines and up-to-the-minute reporting around the McCann case. As one Independent writer phrased it at the time, mother of seven "Karen Matthews is not as elegant, nor as eloquent” as the Leicester doctors.
It wasn't until the crime unravelled that Britain truly paid it heed.
On 14 March a tip-off lead police to the home of Shannon's step-father's uncle, Michael Donvan, 39, in the neighbouring suburb of Batley Carr. There the girl was found restrained beneath a bed - she had been drugged, and was frightened and crying. Donvan was arrested at the scene. Yet there were strong suspicions he wasn't the only player.