Should We Be Surprised at Karen Matthews Behaviour?

December 5, 2008

Karen Matthews was rightly described as pure evil after being convicted for her shocking role in the kidnap of her daughter. Here was a mother of seven children by five different partners concocting a plan to have her daughter drugged and kidnapped so that she could gain financially. Obviously finding a job and working like most people didn’t cross her mind, but a scheme so devious in nature that it is incomprehensible did. Even among cases where family breakdown and social deprivation is prevalent, this surely takes the biscuit.

However, even when Karen Matthews was giving her Oscar winning performances in front of the cameras and pleading in her very thick Yorkshire accent to Shannon to ‘coome hoame’ there were many including myself who weren’t convinced that Karen Matthews was being totally honest. And when I learnt that Karen and her partner were more interested in watching television and bickering over which channels to watch during a visit by an official to talk about Shannon’s disappearance, I was even more convinced that something wasn’t right. Naturally when Karen Matthews was arrested and charged, this did not come as a big surprise.

My reason for this suspicion was not simply a hunch but from having seen at first hand even in the short time I was a councillor, the way dysfunctional families lived and their detachment from reality. In one case where a constituent came for help because her children had been taken away, the version of events according to her and from the limited information I could glean from social services due obviously to legal reasons were so far apart that it was beyond belief. The mother portraying herself as a complete innocent having done nothing wrong and blaming the Local Authority for inexplicably taking away her children but on the other hand very serious allegations of drug taking and child neglect being made against her. So when we learnt at the outset of the number of partners and children Karen Matthews had and her socio-economic background, it was inevitable that people were suspicious.

But when anyone dared to raise concerns about the way Karen Matthews lived, they were accused of being a snob and of being judgmental. One person who I had a conversation with while Shannon was missing blamed the Local Authority, the Government and Society for not doing enough to help people like Karen escape from her lifestyle – exactly the self pity defence that she put forward. Individual responsibility never once cropped up and the fact that people have to in the end make decisions for themselves was almost irrelevant. It was indicative of her lifestyle and priorities when Karen was offered two trolleys of food free from a local supermarket that one was filled to the top with alcohol.

But while there is no excuse or reason to justify Karen Matthews’ behaviour, it can be argued that all the living conditions were in place similar those of the mother of Baby P for an unsavoury incident involving any one of her children to take place – and which eventually did. There was complete family breakdown, multiple partners moving in and out of the home, no stability in the home, high dependency on welfare benefits, poverty of aspiration, no morality in the home and no guidance from elsewhere and little or no pride in the area where they lived or any desire to improve civic society.

If people choose to live such depressingly dysfunctional lives and are allowed to do so, we should not be surprised when they engage in depraved and repugnant behaviour. When I read of the drawing by Shannon showing an explicit sexual scene with ‘Mummy and Mick’ as a caption, it made me and no doubt everyone else who read it gasp at what a child was being exposed to and how that would affect her during adulthood.

When there are no boundaries to appallingly bad behaviour should we be surprised when we see someone like Karen Matthews drug and kidnap her daughter and play out a game with the Police and the whole country where she is a distraught mother searching for her child which she has kidnapped?