Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

MP calls for Shannon case review

Karen Matthews
Matthews was unable to put her children's needs above her own

The MP in Shannon Matthews' home town has called for a review of the contacts social services had with her family before she was kidnapped by her mother.

Karen Matthews, 33, was convicted on Thursday of kidnap, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.

The BBC has learnt Kirklees Council commissioned a psychological report into Matthews in December 2003 - over four years before Shannon disappeared.

Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik said an independent review would be "sensible".

He was speaking after the BBC's Panorama programme revealed that the 2003 social services report said Karen Matthews needed "constant monitoring" because of concerns for the welfare of her seven children.

Mr Malik talks about his concerns over the case

But he said the case was not the same as that of Baby P, the child whose death in north London led to criticism of social services at Haringey Council.

Mr Malik told BBC News: "My gut instinct is that this is not a case like Baby P.

"But the truth is that we don't know what this actually is and a review will tell us."

Mr Malik said he was confident that a review would "demonstrate that Kirklees has nothing to hide whatsoever", but he hoped lessons could be learned from the case.

"This review ought to look at whether sufficient resources are allocated for this type of child protection work.

"It's not about scapegoating social workers."

During a three-week trial at Leeds Crown Court, the jury heard that Matthews conspired with Michael Donovan, 40, her partner's uncle, to imprison her daughter in a plan to claim 50,000 in reward money.

The nine-year-old was discovered on 14 March at Donovan's flat in Batley Carr, West Yorkshire - less than a mile from her home in Dewsbury Moor - after a 24-day police operation costing 3.2m.

Shannon Matthews
Shannon Matthews was taken off the child protection register

The pair will be sentenced at a date to be fixed, after the trial judge asked for reports. Mr Justice McCombe warned them they faced a "substantial custodial sentence".

The BBC's Panorama programme, which was given exclusive access to West Yorkshire Police's investigation, said the psychological report was commissioned three years before Shannon went missing, amid concerns for the welfare of Matthews' seven children.

The programme said the report concluded: "Her [Karen Matthews] ability to protect her children is compromised by her inability to successfully place the children's needs above her own.

"I believe that Karen will require constant monitoring and support throughout the lives of her children."

According to the documentary, Matthews' children were removed from the child protection register by the time the report was completed.

The documentary alleged that despite ongoing concerns about violence in the home and the effect this might have on the children "they were never considered at risk of significant harm" and not placed back on the child protection register.

This is not another Haringey - I think we have just got to look at it dispassionately, calmly, and see what lessons can be learned
Barry Sheerman MP

Kirklees Social Services said it was limited in what it could say about the Matthews family for legal reasons.

In a statement, Alison O'Sullivan, Director for Children and Young People at Kirklees Council, said that "very important issues concerning the children, the actions and plans of this local authority past, present and proposed will be scrutinised carefully".

She said: "We are acutely aware that the difficult issues surrounding child protection and the promotion of child welfare by local authorities are rightly the subject of huge public interest.

"Kirklees Council and the agencies it works alongside strive in all cases to achieve a proper balance between rigorous statutory intervention and social support for children and families who may be struggling to cope."

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, who also chairs the Commons Children's Committee, said Kirklees Council must look at what lessons can be learned.

"There is an orthodoxy in this country that tends to say that a child will normally, at all costs, stay with the birth family," he said.

"I think we have to look very carefully at that."

However, he stressed that Kirklees Council's children's services department had "a very fine reputation".

Referring to the recent Baby P case in London, he said: "This is not another Haringey.

"I think we have just got to look at it dispassionately, calmly, and see what lessons can be learned".

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