Guide The Search for Shannon

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The media had also been helpful, she said, but "we would appreciate it if the family could be left alone now to allow us to come to terms with recent events". Shannon's father, Leon Rose, said: "I am buzzing over it — especially since Shannon has been found alive. I'm over the moon and I can't wait to see her. I'll grab hold of her and give her a cuddle and tell her I love her. Police have yet to charge Mick Donovan, formerly known as Paul Drake, in whose home Shannon was found under a divan bed on Friday.

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Unconfirmed reports yesterday suggested he was being questioned about the possibility of other family involvement. They want Shannon to be the guest of honour at the event, in the field behind her house, "with bouncy castles and all that". But it could be a long time before she goes home. Yesterday Shannon was with specially trained police officers in an interview suite designed to be as child-friendly as possible.

Shannon has been put under an emergency police protection order, which means she cannot see her mother or stepfather, Craig Meehan, without officers being present. That means not going back to live at her family home on Moorside Road for the moment. The couple also talked to detectives yesterday, before returning home.

Ms Matthews has barely slept for three weeks, and was unable to hold off tears, say friends. She has also fallen out with her own parents, over accusations they made against Mr Meehan. One police officer said: "We are trying to make sure, while Shannon is with us, that we have the family within our care.

The protection order expires tomorrow but will almost certainly be extended by a magistrate.

How the Shannon Matthews kidnap plot fell apart

Shannon went missing on her way home from school in freezing fog on 19 February. The hunt that followed was the largest in the area since the Yorkshire Ripper, around 30 years ago, with 60 detectives and more than uniformed officers involved. They used sniffer dogs, helicopters and divers, searched alleyways and bins, and carried out door-to-door inquiries, but did not knock at the flat in Batley Carr where she was found until last Friday morning. It came from a big pile of leaflets, the last of thousands printed off and given out by volunteers, as the days passed and desperation grew.

Little girls don't come back alive after 24 days. But this one did. Detectives are cross their pride at finding her has been tarnished by accusations that they took their time. But a source close to the inquiry defended the police, saying they had started by interviewing close relatives, then widened out to the extended family. There were "literally hundreds of people" in a "huge family network" requiring a lot of resources, the source insisted.

Shannon's family life is complicated, and she does have many relatives in the area. Her mother has given birth to seven children by five fathers.

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She says Shannon treats Mr Meehan, 22, like her dad. But a message was found scrawled in felt-tip on the wall of Shannon's bedroom, saying that she wanted to live with her real dad, Leon Rose, 30 miles away in Huddersfield. Comparisons with Madeleine McCann who went missing in Portugal last year were inevitable. Shannon was not the daughter of a couple of good-looking, wealthy, middle-class doctors with friends who knew how to work the media, as Madeleine was. Last week, Radio 4's Today programme was criticised for an interview with Ms Matthews that dwelt — unfairly, many thought — on her home life.

But accusations have also come from within her own family. Her mother, June Matthews, told a newspaper last week that the children had an awful life and Mr Meehan was violent. But he insisted: "I have never hit [Shannon] or any of the children. I love those kids.

June is lying because she doesn't like me. So how did the police find Shannon at last? Claims of tip-offs leading to the arrest have been "overstated", said an officer. The charity Missing People has said it contacted West Yorkshire Police to pass on information that she might be there. A man living nearby said he had phoned the police hotline some time ago, "but no one ever got back to me".

Another neighbour said she had been alerted by a discarded swimming costume and towel Shannon had had a swimming lesson just before her disappearance. There were other stories, too, including from the neighbour living downstairs who heard "little footsteps" but knew the occupant did not have children living with him. Ryan Baynes, a tiler from Dewsbury, told The Sun he had called Crimestoppers "within days" of Shannon's disappearance and told them about Donovan, who had allegedly behaved strangely at a family funeral six weeks previously.

He bounced the girl on his knee and paid her "far too much attention", said Mr Baynes. But each time I called I was told it was being looked into. It really began to niggle me. Despite this, police insist they initially visited the flat on Friday only as part of routine inquiries, working their way through the long list of members of Shannon's extended family. But however it happened, the raid took place at Shannon was found in a compartment underneath a divan bed. She was dressed, and not tied up.

According to reports, a policewoman hugged her, then whispered: "Where is the man? As she was carried out, her arms around a policeman's neck, a neighbour shouted out: "Is that Shannon? She was said to be "very quiet" but apparently physically uninjured. Donovan was reportedly dragged from the building, calling out: "I'm a poorly man. I should be taken to hospital. I'm not well. His neighbour, Mandy Dixon, described him as a "scrawny, scruffy, horrible man" who was most often seen polishing his silver Peugeot Rumour of the rescue spread fast through Dewsbury Moor.

Julie Bushby, chair of the tenants' association and leader of the extraordinary community campaign to find the missing girl, was being filmed by a news crew when she rang Karen Matthews to find out what was happening. But Ms Matthews, who was at home, said she had to wait for the family liaison officers. When they arrived, friends and neighbours were asked to go upstairs.

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The spontaneous party that followed lasted until the early hours of the morning, said Neil Hyett. Fireworks were set up in front gardens and children kicked through piles of leaflets as if they were snow. Not everyone who partied had played their part, he said. Free beer, see. There was anger as well as joy. One partying neighbour told a news crew: "I just hope nothing has happened to her. Because if it has, God help the person that has done it.

This community doesn't forgive that easily.

Key points:

In Dewsbury Moor the morning after, there were empty bottles and cans strewn in the gardens, and leaflets that were not being burned were stuck to the pavements like old confetti. There are already signs that the togetherness brought on by the search for Shannon could fall apart.

But so much was achieved by the people of this much-maligned area. We didn't give up.

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  • More than 90 per cent of abducted children are killed within 24 hours of going missing, according to an American study. Despite that, when we last spoke two weeks ago, Mr Hyett was already planning celebrations in his head. Police, SES crews and community volunteers have been conducting a search using motorbikes, four-wheel drives, helicopters and planes.

    Ms Lowden's brother, Callum, has been helping with the search and said the family remained hopeful she would be found safe. If they're not found in the next couple of days, we're praying they'll be found over the weekend. Inspector Shane Cashman is coordinating the search and said there was a widespread effort from a number of members in the community. It's dangerous for four-wheel drives — we have to try and cover all areas as safely as we can," he said. We are hoping if they've stayed with the car, they'll be OK.

    Topics: missing-person , emergency-incidents , erica , kilsyth , lilydale , rawson , walhalla First posted September 12, More stories from Victoria. If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC. ABC teams share the story behind the story and insights into the making of digital, TV and radio content. Read about our editorial guiding principles and the standards ABC journalists and content makers follow.

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