Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

'Shannon was upstairs all along'

by Heidi Tomlinson and Sallie George
BBC News, Leeds

June Batley
Mrs Batley befriended Donovan in an effort to be neighbourly

When June Batley heard the patter of a child's feet coming from the flat upstairs, she could never have known they belonged to missing schoolgirl Shannon Matthews.

But the realisation that for 24 days, the nine-year-old was just yards away, being kept captive by her neighbour Michael Donovan, has tormented her ever since.

"I was a bundle of nerves for months afterwards", she said.

"I wish we'd realised sooner. We'd have been straight on the phone.

"But you don't realise. And she did only sound like a tiny one, not a nine-year-old."

Detective describes the moment Shannon was found

Like most of her other neighbours in Batley Carr, June knew little about Michael Donovan.

He was described by many as a loner, a computer programmer who could not work due to illness.

In an effort to be neighbourly, June and her husband Vic had befriended the 39-year-old, and he popped in for coffee and a chat practically every day.

"He said how lonely he was without his two girls, and how much he missed them," she said.

So, after returning from holiday with her husband, she was surprised when he stopped calling by - and seemed instead to be avoiding her.

She said: "Michael used to come out of his flat and practically run past ours, whereas before he used to call in.

The flat where Shannon was found in Lidgate Gardens
Police battered down the door which led to Donovan's upstairs flat

"We just thought he'd fallen out with us because we'd been on holiday and not told him.

"And then we heard this little one upstairs. She only sounded like a toddler.

"But she was always laughing and giggling. We only heard her about two or three times."

June and her husband put the noises down to the child of a woman they believed was Donovan's girlfriend.

And as the days went by, as they watched the massive search operation unfold on the news they had no idea the little girl was just upstairs.

"We had the news on every day because obviously with it being a local little girl, and with it going on so long, it was so worrying.

"And we were so upset for her mum at the time, not realising that she was part of the plot.

"We kept saying we do hope that she's found safe.

"For her to be found upstairs was just a total, total shock."

On 14 March, after Shannon had been missing for 24 days, police knocked on the door.

I've never seen Karen Matthews come and visit Michael
June Batley

"Detectives came to the door, we went outside to talk to them and we told the detectives that we'd heard a little one upstairs.

"Then they just went [to Donovan's] and said 'we will be back'.

"But they didn't go, they just went down the road . . . and then all these policemen arrived in vehicles and battered the door down and went inside and found them . . .

"Then we saw them bring Shannon out . . .she looked fine - bit nervous, but she looked fine.

"And they dragged Michael out and took him away."

For June, the realisation that Donovan was related to Craig Meehan, Shannon's stepfather, came as a shock.

She said: "We didn't even know he had family round here until all this blew up . . . I've never seen Karen Matthews come and visit Michael - at all.

"We knew he had a sister, but we certainly didn't think he had a relative Dewsbury way. So that was a real shock.

"He was a loner, an absolute loner."

Print Sponsor



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific