Karen Matthews the dreadful mother still pathetically seeking the spotlight - Christa Ackroyd

I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye the school photograph of a young girl with a smiley, freckled face that more than a decade ago was posted on every street corner of a Yorkshire town. You probably can picture her, too.

Karen Matthews, seen here in 2008, has been back in the news recently.

She will be very different now, a young woman with a new identity in her early twenties living in an area where no one knows who she once was. Thankfully. Though I doubt she will ever fully escape the demons caused by those 24 days in captivity tied up with a dog collar and chain, or hidden in the drawers of a divan bed at an unknown uncle’s house, aged just nine.

It was a news story I will never forget and one that keeps rearing its ugly head, largely due to the feckless, dysfunctional woman who planned it.

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I often think about Shannon Matthews, whose disappearance sparked the biggest manhunt since the Yorkshire Ripper and wonder how she can ever come to terms with the fact the person who was supposed to love her the most was responsible. And all for money.

I rarely think about that person, her infamous mother Karen, whom she no longer sees but who keeps turning up in the press with her ridiculous statements, the most shocking being “I am not Britain’s worst mother. She didn’t die”.

Well try telling that to the seven children she gave birth to, all of whom were brought up by her many former partners or, like Shannon, in care.

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It is, of course, total fantasy from a woman who enjoyed her days in the spotlight and is quite happy to remain there, despite her appalling crimes.

The authorities would never let her look after another child. At least they shouldn’t. But then Karen Matthews, described by her friends as childlike, fooled us all and through the crocodile tears came to love every moment in front of the cameras. She was the best actress never to grace our screens.

She is also the perfect example of an era when the more children you had the more benefits you were entitled to. Her children were her bread and butter. She even remarked to the local chip shop owner who offered free food during the search for Shannon: “Ooh, I’ll have to have one of my kids go missing more often.”

One sad little note found at her house from the nine year old to her brother read: “Do you think we will get any tea tonight?” The answer was probably not.

Shannon Matthews was the original latchkey kid. Her brother, whom I came to know during those 24 days, was a sad little boy who often played truant from school and sometimes slept rough.

As the days turned into weeks on Dewsbury Moor, the chances Shannon would be found alive grew slimmer. And Karen, who knew exactly where she was, was milking it.

A whole community, stoic and determined, joined the search the night she went missing and the nights that followed. It was around this time of year and in the middle of a cold snap when temperatures plummeted to minus 10.

After four days, when every outhouse, garage and open space had been searched, police secretly shared with me their fears that even if she hadn’t been murdered and had run away from home, she must by now have frozen to death. And if she had been kidnapped, the odds of her surviving after so long were against her.

I was told to position myself outside that now-infamous house on that infamous street in Dewsbury Moor, which I did, night after night, for Look North. The answer, police believed, lay inside.

The object of their suspicions was not Karen but Shannon’s stepfather, Craig, having found indecent images on his computer – offences he was later jailed for.

Karen appeared distraught, clutching a soft toy and begging for the safe return of her ‘beautiful princess’. We listened in sympathy then. We are not listening now.

Karen Matthews recently announced her baby plans after the home down south, which she shares with her new boyfriend, a convicted paedophile, was targeted by egg-throwing vigilantes.

Although I can understand their anger, I do not believe anyone should take the law into their own hands. As it was, the attack gave Karen yet another platform to spout her nonsense.

While serving her eight-year jail sentence for kidnapping her own daughter (of which she served four) it appears Karen went on a six-week parenting course. That does not make her a fit mother, then or now.

It won’t happen, I am sure. What ‘friend’ (as she claims she has found) would carry a baby for her and her new partner and not expect the authorities to intervene?

The laws surrounding surrogacy in this country are strict. Anyone who carries a child for another woman cannot do so for money and remains the legal mother until adoption, whether the adoptive woman is the biological mother or not. They should be tightened further to ensure all parties are fit parents, which Karen never was and never will be.

I hope and pray Shannon Matthews finds peace and enjoys a good life. I hope for her sake she stays out of the spotlight her mother still so pathetically seeks. As someone who is adopted, I understand the burden of abandonment she will carry.

But I hope she knows that an entire nation – and the community where she was born – is still rooting for her. Just as we were during that bitterly cold winter of 2008.