Shannon kidnap: Mother to blame

IN the overwhelming majority of cases, the criticism directed towards social workers and other agencies, following various child abuse scandals, is justified.

Yet, while the Kirklees authorities could, arguably, have been more proactive in their dealings with the mother, and extended family, of kidnap victim Shannon Matthews, it is impossible to legislate for a woman who is so wicked that she is prepared to fake her own daughter's abduction for financial gain.

This is the only responsible conclusion that can be drawn from the serious case review after the jailing of Karen Matthews, and her then partner Michael Donovan, for eight years for their roles in a crime that the presiding judge described as "truly despicable".

No law can adequately cover such disturbed individuals whose crocodile tears led to one of the biggest manhunts in West Yorkshire Police's recent history – and the whole Dewsbury Moor community searching night and day for little Shannon.

There will be those who will maintain that some, or all, of Matthews' seven children by five different fathers should already have been placed in care by the time of the kidnapping in February 2008, given the sustained level of the extended family's dealings with care workers in Kirklees over a 13-year period.

That may be so. However, the official report shows that the level of risk to Shannon, and her siblings, was altogether different to the neglect suffered by Baby Peter and others. It was born from inadequate parenting skills rather than any desire to inflict violence.

As the review added: "It must be recognised that periods of family disruption and inadequate parenting were interspersed with periods when this mother, and sometimes her partners, provided adequate parenting and met the children's needs."

This was the dilemma that faced the social workers concerned. They would have been accused of failing to learn the lessons from the Cleveland abuse scandal if they had taken the children into care without justification. In other words, they could not win.

The only person to blame, at the end of the day, is Karen Matthews. She could have halted the kidnap plot at the outset. And, if she possessed an ounce of compassion, she could have alerted police to her scam at any time during Shannon's 24-day kidnap ordeal.

Instead, her selfishness and greed has only served to make the already difficult and complex work of social services staff even more challenging.