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Growing desperation in girl hunt

23 February 08 02:55 GMT
By Mark Simpson
BBC North of England Correspondent

Initial confusion over schoolgirl Shannon Matthew's disappearance has turned into a growing sense of desperation.

The level of police concern is demonstrated by their words as well as their actions.

The detective in charge of the investigation, Det Supt Andy Brennan, keeps saying: "I couldn't be more concerned."

He's an experienced officer, not prone to hyperbole. Clearly, he feels that nine-year-old Shannon is in grave danger.

Hundreds of his colleagues have been scouring town and country in West Yorkshire trying to find the schoolgirl, whose family home is in Moorside Road in Dewsbury.

Yet still no sign of Shannon.

No picture. No clothing. No confirmed sighting. No telephone call. No message. No clues.

You don't need to be an experienced investigator to find that alarming.

Search focus

The police investigation is two-fold - searching for Shannon and continuing to interview her friends, family and neighbours to try to piece together information which might help to find her.

The focus of the search remains Dewsbury itself. And police insist that, at this stage, the investigation is local rather than national.

Wherever Shannon went, they don't believe she went far.

One theory is that she could have tried to go from her family home in Dewsbury to nearby Huddersfield where her dad, Leon Rose, lives.

It is a journey of only 10 miles but not a straightforward one for a young schoolgirl with no money and no road sense.

Leon Rose split with Shannon's mother Karen a number of years ago. She now lives with another man, 22-year-old Craig Meehan.

The last time Leon Rose saw his daughter was last summer.

But he says he has been told that she recently wrote on her bedroom wall that she wanted to live with him.

But why had he not seen his daughter for more than six months?

"A lot of problems with family and stuff like that," he said.

"My cars kept breaking down, money and all that kind of thing."

Another theory, reported in two national newspapers, is that Shannon had a row at home over money and that is why she told her school friends on Tuesday that she wanted to run away.

Police declined to comment on this during Friday's lengthy media briefing.

What was significant about that news conference was the fact that the police had so little to say.

They were not evasive - they were simply unable to discuss new developments in the investigation because there had not been any.

Community spirit

The one thing they were able to do was release CCTV images of Shannon at Dewsbury Sports Centre. But these were recorded just before - not after - she disappeared on Tuesday afternoon.

What the pictures show is an apparently carefree young girl swinging her coat as she walked out of the centre with her friends after a school swimming lesson.

She was wearing distinctive pink Bratz boots, black trousers and a black coat with fur around the hood.

Pictures of the missing girl are on front windows, lamp posts and cars throughout Dewsbury.

Busloads of friends and neighbours have travelled to Leeds and the large out-of-town shopping complex, the White Rose Centre, to distribute leaflets, hoping to find someone who has seen Shannon.

Ch Supt Barry South thanked the community for their help.

"I think it is fair to say that myself, Andy Brennan and the rest of the team have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, the energy and in particular the patience around Dewsbury Moor," he said.

"They've made the job of the police far easier."

The community spirit has indeed been remarkable. As has the co-operation between the people and the police.

But all those involved know it will count for nothing if Shannon Matthews is not found soon.

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