About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The Matthews Case: the theories

Martin Wainwright's comment in the Guardian suggests that we have not been able to get a balanced picture of life in the Matthews family home, because Shannon herself was not called to give evidence by the CPS. I can't say I quite understood his point in relation to the particular case. The details of Shannon's life at home may be interesting and particularly so in the light of an investigation into how many clues there were for social services to pick up but I cannot see their relevance to the criminal trial. I would have also thought that the last thing Shannon herself would have benefited on was more publicity involving journalists poring over her every word. There are one or two details of the 'kidnap' plot which might have been clarified (was she tethered by a leash?) but I wonder how much we would have learnt of any real value. I can see that there are other cases where the legal system is rather knee jerk about children giving evidence. Of course, Shannon could have been called by her own mother. Assuming that the evidence she might have given would have assisted her mother in any way, perhaps we should rather conclude that the only decent think Karen did was not to call her.

You might find it interesting to compare and contrast this early piece by
Beatrix Campbell just after Shannon was found with this piece about we shy away from early intervention at a cost to children. She herself was not able to pierce the veil of deception (I don't mean to get at her - she was hardly alone) despite the quantity of statistics over the years demonstrating the prevalence of child abuse, which interestingly she dates back to Cleveland: I would suggest for the very same reasons that case gave rise to such a scandal. We simply do not want to consider the possibility that it happens, it happens a lot and it is quite often (but importantly not always) the carers who are responsible. Or as Lord Laming would say: respectful uncertainty is a useful tool.

The impact of child protection targets on the case are examined in the Telegraph which suggests that Shannon was taken off the register because of pressure to reduce the number of children on the CPR and that a social worker wanted her to remain on the register but she was overruled. The role of targets is also picked up in the Mail by Steve Doughty who looks at a slightly wider range of targets, and the knock on effect on the pay scale and careers of those who achieve them.

Sonia Sodha in the Guardian suggests that we could learn a lot from the
Finnish approach to the role of teachers in child protection cases and introduce a proper welfare service into schools. I couldn't agree more. There has been a great deal of interest in allocating police officers to our schools. We might have more effective identification of child abuse concerns and plug the gap identified in many of the cases by Ed Balls et al (that abused children are not listened to) if there was someone on hand to do so who was seen as sympathetic rather than likely to arrest.


Barbara Ellen's comment in the Guardian tries to decode how Karen offended the middle classes who did not dare to question her guilt. I would venture to suggest that this is more true for journalists than the rest of us. I don't very often say I told you so but I'm afraid I knew pretty much straight away that something did not add up. However, I do think this kind of comment helps to explain why people are so very angry about this case and politicians are now baying for the blood of all apparently feckless single mothers on benefits.

I found the analysis of Tim Adams in the Guardian extremely thorough and considered. One of his points is that Karen Matthews herself played on the comparison with the McCann case and enrolled the media in covering her story by guilt tripping them about the temptation not to present Shannon's disappearance as sympathetically as Madeleine's. He also makes the very good point that the same people who have been baying for the blood of social workers in Haringey who fell for the lies of Baby P's mother, fell themselves for the lies of Karen Matthews because it is very difficult to recognise when someone is willing to tell such a wicked big outrageos lie or tissue of lies.

The Mirror interviews the mother of Karen Matthews whose own theory is that the kidnap is the best thing to have happened to Shannon because now she is out of her mother's care for good. The article records "Shannon's grandparents told how the police ransacked their house and even accused them of hiding Shannon's body. Gordon, 67, said: "We were treated like suspects, her own grandparents. It was disgusting." Still missing the point that in this situation it is only right for the police to consider everyone as suspects (whilst being respectful in their uncertainty) because look who it turned out to be.

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