Family Liaison Officers and the role they play.

christine freemanWhen something traumatic happens, like the abduction of a child for instance, the Police provide Family Liaison Officers. These officers provide valuable information to their colleagues.  Whilst their primary role is to help the family they also have to subtly stay a detective and look for clues and whether the reactions of the family concerned are genuine or whether there are warning signs.

In many high profile cases you hear about the Family Liaison Officers, cases like Milly Dowler, the Soham Murders, and the case I want to use is the disappearance of Shannon Matthews.

Detective Christine Freeman was the Family Liaison Officer and the officer that carried out the arrest.  In the Sun on the 12th February 2009 DC Christine Freeman spoke of her time on the Shannon Matthews Investigation.  It is rather a long article and I want to quote it in its entirety.  The article states:

Karen sobbed a confession to her mates. These were not fake TV tears. I stopped the car and arrested her

FEW people were closer to Karen Matthews during the harrowing hunt for her missing daughter Shannon than detective Christine Freeman.

The family liaison officer was with the family around the clock from the day the nine-year-old vanished on February 19 last year.

And, two months later, when Matthews finally admitted to being behind the abduction along with Michael Donovan, it was DC Freeman who made the arrest.

Now, for the first time, the veteran policewoman has revealed the full story behind Matthews’ shocking revelation – and told how her suspicions about the woman dubbed Britain’s worst mother began soon after the first time they met.

Christine’s doubts were finally confirmed when two of mother-of-seven Matthews’ neighbours – Natalie Brown and Julie Bushby – asked if all four of them could meet.

The detective said: “I drove the three women about while Julie and Natalie began pressing Karen to admit she was in the thick of it.

Instincts

“Finally, Karen began sobbing – not the fake TV tears she had turned on so many times before, but real genuine crying.

“I stopped the car and Karen had the biggest intake of breath before blurting out, ‘Yes, that’s right.’

“She sobbed as she explained she had planned to leave Craig and had only asked Donovan to look after Shannon for a while, and that she’d packed her bags but ended up having to report Shannon missing just to cover her back. ‘No one will speak to me again. I’ll not see the kids again’, she muttered.

“I then formally cautioned her and told her she was under arrest on suspicion of abduction.

“I felt such a relief – my instincts had finally been proven right.”

It was the end of an emotional journey for Christine, which began when the pair met at Matthews’ home 24 hours after Shannon’s disappearance.

On first impression, no one would have thought the smart, blonde detective had anything in common with feckless scrounger Matthews, 38.

But both women are single mothers with working-class backgrounds. And Christine was raised just half a mile from Matthews’ former home in Dewsbury, West Yorks.

Steeling herself to face a distraught Matthews, Christine found her slumped on the sofa while her then partner Craig Meehan continued to play video games.

“Karen paid no attention to me as I explained we were doing all we could to find Shannon,” she said.

“Then my mobile rang and suddenly Karen began dancing around the lounge, laughing and waving her arms, shouting: ‘Oh, I really love this song, it’s great.’ Immediately, the seed of suspicion was planted in my mind. I’ve questioned myself since – why didn’t I challenge her more and trust my instinct? But I was between a rock and a hard place, because if Shannon had been found dead I’d have felt awful and no doubt Karen would have complained about me.”

Christine’s first priority on being assigned the case was to get a detailed description of Shannon’s daily lifestyle.

“At first, Karen sounded the perfect parent – as if she’d swallowed a good parenting guide.

“If we were asking questions she didn’t want to answer, she would turn away, put her head on his shoulder and ask where I’d bought my handbag.

“She explained how they all sat at the kitchen table for meals every night. I looked over and saw it was piled high with rubbish, with no chairs to be seen. Looking back, that was her first obvious lie.”

As the nation feared for little Shannon, Matthews and Meehan began to enjoy the media attention.

Christine says: “Tears were turned on for the cameras but as soon as we closed the door she would turn them off like a tap.

“As presenters did their TV reports outside, Karen and Craig would stand by the net curtains and twitch them to see if it was a live broadcast. They loved that.”

As Matthews’ notoriety grew during the search, she declared to a friend: “Shannon is famous – a superstar now”.

Offers of help flooded in and money and cards were pushed through her letterbox.

But, as the hunt entered its second week, Matthews seemed to lose interest.

Christine recalls: “Her preoccupation seemed to be collecting benefits. She always had notes in her purse.”

On March 14, Christine was interviewing a member of the Meehan family when a colleague told her Shannon had been found alive.

She rushed to the police station.

Christine says: “I couldn’t believe it and wept with elation. When I got to the office, there was such a buzz.

“Officers everywhere were walking about with red eyes. Everyone was ecstatic – except Karen.”

Matthews formally identified Shannon via a one-way mirror.

Not a single tear was shed as she saw her daughter for the first time in 24 days.

Most shocking of all, Matthews never asked how Shannon was, and instead just laughed and commented on the new outfit she was wearing.

It wasn’t until the next day that she finally enquired about her daughter’s wellbeing – and then only after prompting by a senior officer.

Christine says: “I was so shocked that I clocked it on my watch – 3.40pm, more than 24 hours after Shannon had been found.”

By this time, Donovan had revealed Matthews’ part in the kidnap but still Christine had to keep her on board.

She says: “I closed my eyes and whispered, ‘Yes, thank God my instinct was right’. My attitude to Karen changed, albeit subtly, as I knew what I was dealing with now.

“The couple returned home and they agreed to do a photo call for the media. I had to urge Karen to smile. She looked glum and, in hindsight, scared stiff.”

On April 2, Matthews was to be reunited with Shannon, but that morning Meehan was arrested for downloading child porn.

As he was taken away, Christine drove Matthews to see her daughter, who was still in care.

“She looked anxious. Most parents would be desperate to see their child but Karen insisted on collecting her benefits and buying a sandwich first.”

Christine cannot talk about the three-hour meeting for legal reasons, but after ten minutes Matthews looked bored and uncomfortable.

Sex

As they got back in Christine’s car to return to Dewsbury, Matthews declared: ‘I think that went well.’

When Christine explained what was happening with Craig Meehan, Matthews declared the relationship over and openly talked about who would be her next conquest.

“She would joke about sex and which reporter or police officer she ‘wanted to s***’,”

Christine does not believe the £50,000 reward money was Matthew’s motive in the scam. “Although she denies it, I think she was having an affair with Donovan. She wanted to leave Craig, had met Donovan, who was his uncle, and I reckon he said Karen and the kids could stay at his flat.

“Karen then arranged for him to collect Shannon but that evening she bottled it and quickly got trapped in the large hole she had dug.

“However, the reward money was the icing on the cake.”

Last month Matthews showed no emotion at Leeds Crown Court as she was jailed for eight years. Donovan received the same sentence.

Despite a public outcry, Christine believes the term is fair. “I don’t think Karen is evil,” she insisted. “She is dim – but devious.

“My wish for Shannon is for her to make something of her life now that she has left behind all that chaos. We’d all be so proud of her.”

As you read that article you get to understand a) the role of the Family Liaison Officer and their work and b) their detective skills and what gives them a gut-reaction.  You begin to understand how they get a feeling something is not right and what the warning signs are.

Now cast your mind back to the case of Madeleine McCann there were 6 Family Liaison Officers sent by British Police to assist the McCann family.

The Officers assigned were:

Police inspector Caroline Burrows (statement)
Police inspector Eleanor Johnson (statement)
Police inspector Michael Graham (statement)
Police inspector Neil Holden (statement)
Police inspector Jim McGarvey (statement)
Police officer Stephen Markley (statement)

So there were 5 Inspectors and 1 Police Officer that made up the Family Liaison Team sent from the UK.  Five of that team held the position of Police Inspector.  Yet not one of those 6 officers had a gut-feeling like DC Christine Freeman, none of them thought to themselves or discussed amongst themselves any strange behaviour.  Well they could not have done, because each and every one of those 5 Inspectors and that Police Officer gave an emphatic NO in answer to a question put to them by the PJ in the Letters of Request.

That question being:

“Was anything said or done by Kate or Gerry McCann in your presence or during your contacts that may have raised any suspicion that they had knowledge of what happened to Madeleine, besides the circumstances described to the Portuguese investigators? “

Having first hand knowledge of how Family Liaison Officers work, the valued role they play in any investigation and how well trained they are, I am of the firm opinion, that the Family Liaison Officers sent to Portugal, had exemplary records and I can see no reason as to why any of them would risk their, career, their pension, their livelihoods, to lie for two parents.  No officer in their right mind would risk losing everything.

When those officers said No to that specific question, I for one believe them and can find no credible evidence in the files to say otherwise.

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