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Mother's joy at Shannon reunion

15 March 08 18:25 GMT

The mother of Shannon Matthews said she was "overwhelmed" at being reunited with her daughter.

Police rescued the nine-year-old from a flat in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire more than three weeks after she disappeared. She is now in social services care.

Her mother Karen Matthews, 32, said she had never given up hope and "just couldn't stop crying, knowing she's back where she belongs and safe".

Shannon's stepfather's uncle has been arrested on suspicion of abduction.

Michael Donovan, a 39-year-old formerly known as Paul Drake, remains in custody.

He and Shannon were found by police in two concealed compartments under a divan bed at a flat in Lidgate Gardens, Batley Carr, West Yorkshire on Friday afternoon.

Police have since interviewed Shannon and have said she is "on the road to recovery following her ordeal".

Shannon's mother and stepfather Craig Meehan, 22, returned home late on Saturday afternoon after spending Friday night in a hotel.

They stood outside their house in Dewsbury to briefly to pose for photographers.

Karen Matthews said: "I never gave up hope and now she'll be able to come home and sleep in her room again. We've got her new pink bedding which she'll love.

"The police have helped a lot. We can't thank them enough."

She also thanked the local community for their support.

"We're just happy to be a family again. That's all we've wanted - Shannon back and safe - now the family is safe again," she said.

West Yorkshire police said Shannon had spent "a comfortable and settled night" watching films and playing with a kitten after she was found.

Map of where Shannon was found

Leon Rose, Shannon Matthews' biological father, said when he saw his daughter he would "grab hold of her and give her a cuddle and tell her I love her".

"All that counts is that Shannon has been found safe and well. I'm thankful that the nightmare is over - it's now a dream come true," he said.

Police sources have defended the amount of time it took to find Shannon just one mile from her home.

They said there were "literally hundreds of people" in a "huge family network" that required a large amount of resources.

The search operation was the force's biggest since the Yorkshire Ripper case.

But Yorkshire MEP Edward Macmillan-Scott said police should have carried out more thorough checks.

He said: "In more than three out of four cases like this a family member is involved so a thorough search would have included the suspect in this case."

The Labour MP for Dewsbury, Shahid Malik, said "After 24 days, seldom is it that you get the kind of positive outcome that we've got in Dewsbury, and we ought to be celebrating that."

He said people should be thanking the police and local community for their efforts.

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