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Learning from Shannon Matthews' disappearance

Mark Mardell | 22:30 UK time, Sunday, 16 March 2008

Could Shannon have been found earlier if there had been common European guidelines for police to follow?
Shannon Matthews
Conservative MEP Edward McMillan-Scott wants the European Union to adopt a common alert scheme for missing children.

He says that Shannon Mathews would have been found much earlier if there had been one in operation.

The scheme he favours is based on the American Amber Alert, and it would have meant that all members of the extended family would have been interviewed.

In the US, 80% of cases involving missing children involve a relative. Mr McMillan-Scott has met with Alain Lamassoure who is advising the French President on ways the EU can be more involved in cross-border activity.

He wants the French to press the idea when they take over the EU presidency in the summer.

The commission will probably be keen: the justice commissioner says he likes to see the EU as “the guardian angel” of children. What do you think?

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:10 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Neil Small wrote:

I wish that politicians would keep their noses out of police investigations. The Home Secretary oversees the police, not some oreviously unknown MEP. Without knowing all the facts, the MEP and certain newspapers are accusing the police of incompetence. Such comments are dangerous and could affect any future criminal trial.

By all means raise the issues later, but not in this opportunistic manner.

  • 2.
  • At 11:22 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Elizabeth wrote:

I think a system like the Amber Alert system would be very helpful. Each time a child goes missing, alerts go off on all television and radio networks, people can sign up to receive text message alerts and electronic information signs on the highways flash the information.

The alerts give information on the child's age, appearance and any information on the person(s)last seen with the child, including vehicle information and where they may be headed.

Pictures of the child and alleged kidnapper are on the national airwaves within minutes of the alert being issued and the child may be back home within hours.

  • 3.
  • At 11:24 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Emily wrote:

Look at any child abduction case and you will know that it's localisation that's the key. Not EU directives! It's very hard for politicians to grasp this, when so much of their future remuneration is often based on the EU, but the success of crime solving and policing is completely dependent on the police and local community.

"He want the French" needs an edit

  • 4.
  • At 11:31 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Jim wrote:

Could Shannon have been found earlier if there had been common European guidelines for police to follow - NO and anyone in the last few days watching this unfold would know the answer to that question. I would be willing to bet that there is a lot more to this case than we know at present. The actions of the police contrary to opinion are not the normal actions in cases like this. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep mum from having unsupervised access to her daughter.

  • 5.
  • At 11:41 PM on 16 Mar 2008,
  • Aaron S wrote:

Great Britain is an Island, If a kidnaped child is taken from Great Britain then the port authorities have failed in their duties.

What we need is a presumption by the police that all available officers within the general region of a child going missing will be sent to help find them.

West Yorkshire police may have used upto 10% of there force to look for Shannon, but if 10% of the North Yorkshire force, 10% of lancashire's police force, 10% Humberside's police force and 10% of south yorkshire police force were tasked with finding her then she might have been found sooner.

We don't need Europe to sort this out for us, ACPO or the Home Secretary could sort it out in no time at all, and let us hope they do before another child goes missing.

  • 6.
  • At 12:05 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

I have heard it said that these days even the dullest EU Commissioner knows that fresh EU powers cannot be justified on the slightest pretext. Franco Frattini regularly demonstrates this is not true.

  • 7.
  • At 12:20 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • HarryWolf wrote:

Wont make any difference.
All it will do is make more forms, more pointless procedures.
Police already know that the most likely culprit in ANY abduction or murder case will be one of the family members - thats simply a statistical reality.

The useless MP is trying to get publicity, thats all.

  • 8.
  • At 12:23 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Tony Robinson wrote:

The system you describe could have been used without involving the "EU". The "EU" is always trying to extend its powers. It tries to camouflage integration and megalomania as co-operation thus ensuring that cooperation is always suspect. With every breath it takes, every move it makes, every bond it breaks, every step it takes, it becomes more like China,

  • 9.
  • At 12:40 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • gary wrote:

The EU way has not helped in the case of Madeline Macann has it? Portugal has a US style alert system, where was this ignorant MEP then?
We often criticise UK Police, yet we do not know how fortunate we are. They work at the constant cutting edge in major enquiries and still lead the world in many areas. This MEP is merely pushing his own political agenda in a cynical way. What does he know of investigation techniques, and how familiar is he with the FULL facts of Shannon's case?

  • 10.
  • At 12:48 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Tom Willis wrote:

I'd divide the question into 2:

Q1 Is it worth following best practice?
A1 Yes

Q2 Is the EU level the best place to apply this (by analogy with the US federal level)?
A2 The EU is not a federation

Why is this a European question? What prompted the comment in a European context? I am flummoxed.

  • 11.
  • At 01:34 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Disillusioned wrote:

People obviously don't think much as there are no comments.

I don't see why this is the remit of Europe at all. This is a purely domestic matter. Why should it possibly concern the President of France?

  • 12.
  • At 02:23 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Grattan Endicott wrote:

A children's DNA database would be good, on a voluntary basis for those who wish to enter their child on it. Could be run by a children's charity.

  • 13.
  • At 07:01 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

This is just appalling opportunism by Mr McMillan-Scott. Does he think West Yorkshire Police don't know that statistic? It's right to ask whether the police's procedures were correct, but all Mr McMillan-Scott is doing is publicly criticising them for not finding Shannon sooner. Has he actually come out and congratulated them for finding her?

  • 14.
  • At 08:05 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Tom wrote:

Given that Shannon was found so close to her home how would such a mechanism have been relevant here? I agree that such a mechanism can be is needed especially in the country where an abduction occurs.

Whilst such a mechanism may be useful, is not Interpol a better organisation. Why restrict things to Europe?

I suspect that the European Commission would be delighted for the EU to take on such a role but the motives may not be purely for the good of children.

  • 15.
  • At 08:07 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • jane wrote:

I am aware of the Amber Alert as on occasions I do watch Fox News and their broadcast has often been interrupted by such alerts. However, the system appears to rely on children being abducted by car and this did not occur in Shannon's case. I understand that the alert system is or has been subject to trials in the UK and no doubt we will have a system in place in due course. What use it will be regarding children being taken across country boundaries I do not know.

I do feel there should be a European wide system. This may have assisted in the Madeline McCann case as much speculation has taken place about her being removed from Portugal.

  • 16.
  • At 08:08 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Eringena wrote:

There is much to commend ‘Amber Alert’ as a means of mass, rapid and blanket dissemination of the details of a missing child, but there are guidelines enforced by the US Department of Justice in order to prevent excessive false alarms.

There are four important criteria to be applied before issuing an Amber Alert:

1.Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place.
2.The child must be at risk of serious injury or death.
3.There must be sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor's vehicle to issue an alert.
4.The child must be 17 years old or younger

It is obvious that, in the cases of Shannon Matthews and Madeleine McCann, and for widely differing reasons, the first three of these caveats would have inhibited a declaration of Amber Alert, had such a procedure existed in their cases. Amber Alert is no panacea, and certainly no substitute for conscientious parenting.

  • 17.
  • At 08:19 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Dave wrote:

This girl was taken a couple of blocks, and the reaction of MEPs is to say that she would have been found quicker with an EU-wide alert system? Clearly informing the police in Warsaw would be a vital pre-requisite to searching a house less than a mile away. I am not saying a European-wide alert system is a bad idea or might not occassionaly be helpful, but in this case it would have been completely irrelevant. Yet another case of Brussels jumping to a bureaucratic, expensive, pan-European solution to a local problem.

  • 18.
  • At 08:40 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Gwyneth Cairns wrote:

I can't comment on the specifics of Shannon's case, but as a Brit living in France, I have been impressed by the system which is in place over here. If a child is missing in suspicious circumstances, messages are diffused at regular intervals on the radio, the television and on motorway bridge message boards, encouraging everyone to be alert. It has apparently been successful upon several occasions.

  • 19.
  • At 08:43 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • aslamox wrote:

What a lot of nonsense. Of course a european wide alert system would not have helped. We have our own police force so let us thank them for a job well done. Why are we so quick to condem our own and think that the answer lies in the hands of strangers.
There is already a set of national guidelines relating to immediate families, this just needs to be extended, after all an uncle of a step father is hardley a close relative.

Yes that would be the same system as has been so useful for the McCanns in tracing their missing child, no doubt. What are these people smoking at our expense ?

  • 21.
  • At 09:29 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • John Boole wrote:

The man who allegedly abducted Shannon Matthews was a "quiet man who kept himself to himself".

May I suggest that the EU Introduce a Continental wide register of "Quiet Men who Keep Themself to Themself"?

  • 22.
  • At 09:34 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • grahamew wrote:

What opportunism by this useless eurocrat. Instead of praising the police for their hard work and diligence, he wades in with criticism and nonsense. And the news story within 24 hours was not thanking the stars that she is alive and hopefully well, but this issue.

Why hasn't he raised this before, or wouldn;t that have got him in the press? The media should have focussed on the good news story instead of the sniping from this sad person who is clearly too wrapped up in his own abstract world to realise that a great many people sighed a relief when Shannon was found.

  • 23.
  • At 09:41 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Terry wrote:

It's a nice excuse for EU to gain access to all the patient data about all the kids throughout europe.

Then, in the event of a conflict, it's so much easier to segregate the non-nationals from the indigenous population and ship them off...........

Oh wait a minute, that's been done before hasn't it!!

As others have already noted, Macmillan-Scott's intervention is surely just the "acceptable" face of yet another power grab by Brussels and its Quislings.

Clearly our national government in Brussels is annoyed that it hasn't yet managed to remove control over the police from the provincial governments, such as in Westminster, and transfer it to Berlaymont, where they think it belongs. Jumping on this bandwagon is just the opportunist reaction that one would expect.

Unless the Conservative Party rapidly disown this waste of an MEP's salary, he will provide yet another reason for voting "anything but Tory" at the next elections.

  • 25.
  • At 10:13 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Rodrigo Calvo wrote:

Those who refer to the Madeleine McCann case and say that "this is the same system that failed there" completely miss the point. The system currently is not in place in Europe. Not for Maddie, not for Shannon, not for any missing child. While this may be less important in Great Britain, which, as some point out, is an island (but one in which it is apparently quite possible to smuggle people in, never mind out), even Brits, like the McCanns, occasionally find themselves on the Continent.

I find it sad, and bloody outrageous, that some people's irrational and unsubstantiatied hatred of the EU prevents them from even considering where it may make itself useful.

  • 26.
  • At 10:14 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Peter Sketchley wrote:

The ever creeping powers of the EU institutions does nothing for people on the ground. Grand ideas in ivory towers have no place in the real world; from which, ironically, the house of cards is financed.
The local police have access to all the support they need: as have the local authority who should be dealing with child care issues daily.
Introducing some pan-Europe 'solution' is just pie-in-the-sky: does this MEP know how many kids & young people go absent or voluntarily leave home? Abductions or alleged abductions are dealt with robustly - here & now.

  • 27.
  • At 11:25 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Tom Sweeney wrote:

What part of finding an abducted child a mile from her home suggests to these people that and EU-wide alert would help?

  • 28.
  • At 11:33 AM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • jode wrote:

this kind of stuff really annoys me people complain when the police dont find missing people then when they do people complain even more that it wasnt quick enough! we should just be grateful they found shannon in time!

  • 29.
  • At 12:01 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • deana wrote:

Congrats to your police force! As an american I do see the usefullness of the amber alert system. Two blocks or 2000 miles, the same message gets out to all. When our own shannon was was kidnapped (by a stranger) she was recognised 2 states away by a store clerk. her parents aunt and uncle and brother were murdered in their home and she was taken and missing for weeks, But they (she and her kidnapper) were spotted because of the alerts. BUT!!! You have done something we never could. a house to house search of the entire town! applause applause!!!! Good going you all!

  • 30.
  • At 01:36 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Victoria Springett wrote:

The Amber Alert system would have had police alerting drivers on the motorway of the license plate number of the vehicle beleived to have abducted Shannon Matthews and would have notified the press immediately when a child was thought to have been abducted.
There are already problems with this member of parliament suggesting we interrupt cases such as these with EU directives along the lines of Amber Alert. Firstly the police had no vehicle details to notify motorway drivers of. Secondly, the police informed the press by 9am the next morning and it was covered by local and national press. And thirdly, it was initially thought that Shannon had run away not been abducted. Following the EU directives Mr McMillan-Scott proposes would have consumed valuable time and manpower better directed towards finding a lost child than following guidelines and writing reports on why certain aspects of the directives could not be followed.
Please Mr McMillan-Scott either investigate the subject on which you are expressing ill-educated views or do not express your views at all. And it must be said that if this is how you have to fill your time in order to legitimise your wages and expenses please do the decent thing and tender your resignation with imediate effect.
As a parent in the West Yorkshire region (living less than a mile from the abductor) I must commend the West Yorkshire Police for their thorough and consistent investigation.

  • 31.
  • At 02:08 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

There is no cross-border issue at stake here. Therefore no reason for EU involvement.

  • 32.
  • At 03:06 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • MalcolmW wrote:

The EU, and those living high on the hog through it's existence, never lose an opportunity to push for yet more integration; the flimsiest excuse will do. There are already perfectly robust systems in place for cooperation between national police agencies (not just within the EU but throughout the world). Political interference in policing is bad enough in the UK without expanding it to the meddlesome EU. I am sick and tired of politicians and EU bureaucrats using any and every event to push their own power-grabbing agenda.

  • 33.
  • At 03:09 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • beryl boote wrote:

congratulations to the Police. I think they did a good job in finding the child.

  • 34.
  • At 03:38 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Antonis Kyriazis wrote:

These people are lobbyists promoting systems and methods generating revenue to others. They do not want a competent and proud police force. They simply want cheap and dummy officers and the money spared put elsewhere...


  • 35.
  • At 04:28 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Dectora wrote:

Perhaps given the brilliant success of the Belgian police in locating missing children safe and well, this force should design the proposed EU wide system.

  • 36.
  • At 05:56 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Amuro wrote:

I actually like the idea, but seriously how many people are actually misinterpreting the entire article. I never knew English 'Europhobia' runs so deep that its making them delusional and unreasonable.

  • 37.
  • At 10:59 PM on 17 Mar 2008,
  • Patricia wrote:

What harm would it do to have a European-wide alert? The negative comments seem to be mean-spirited and not at all helpful.

  • 38.
  • At 12:55 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • Rosemary Hill wrote:

I'm afraid I think Mr McMillan-Scott is using this case to gain cheap publicity. I doubt he knows the intricacies of this case any better than the rest of us. The only people who do are the police officers involved in the investigation. It's so easy to make general, carping comments - but a very foolish thing to do when you don't have the full facts.

Wouldn't the child normally have been returned to her parents by now? Wouldn't the police usually have held a press conference? Since none of that has happened, aren't there reasonable grounds for thinking that this is, as the police have indicated, a far more complex case than it first appears? And shouldn't the likes of Mr Mc Millan-Scott refrain from the ignorant knee-jerk reaction of criticizing the police until he knows if and how Shannon Matthew's family circumstances may have influenced what happened to her?

  • 39.
  • At 08:11 PM on 18 Mar 2008,
  • mumsonguard wrote:

Could the amber alert have helped?
Can we learn from this case?

About as much chance as social services learning from victoria climbie case

  • 40.
  • At 03:42 PM on 20 Mar 2008,
  • Julie wrote:

Re Amber Alert.
In the case of a missing child I thought all members of an extended family would automatically be interviewed. I'm shocked to find out this isn't the case.

  • 41.
  • At 12:06 AM on 21 Mar 2008,
  • Luke wrote:

Really, all this europhobia is sickening. Pan-european cooperation in police affairs helped us apprehend the july 21 failed bombers in a fraction of the time it would have taken otherwise, and of course implementing an eu wide system would logically fill a gap so blatantly exposed by the failures vis a vis the McCanns. But hey, anything done in Brussels, even by a Brit, is foreign and therefore dangerous. I keep forgetting to follow the script (Down w/ the French).

  • 42.
  • At 12:56 AM on 23 Mar 2008,
  • dc wrote:

Yes, I am a quiet man who keeps himself to himself. Should I be arrested if a younger goes missing in the neighbourhood.

  • 43.
  • At 09:55 PM on 26 Mar 2008,
  • Thomas Goodey wrote:

Perhaps a useful feature of any alert system would be a police force which knows how to do its job?

  • 44.
  • At 05:58 PM on 27 Mar 2008,
  • Peter wrote:

What is needed is for all future missing child investigations, indeed all serious crime investigations to be handed over to the media. They are people of the highest integrity, honesty & efficiency ??????

I would of liked to have known more about the case. But, I think the Amber Alert is a good thing. Just yesterday, a baby was abducted, right out of a hospital in Florida, and the police found her shortly afterwards and made an arrest.

And, I'm also a strong proponent of harsher, more stronger prison sentences of child perverts and sexual predators. We need to get out of the mind set that we can "Cure" them, and give them the harshest, strongest measures during incarceration that we can muster.

  • 46.
  • At 04:49 PM on 05 Apr 2008,
  • m johnson wrote:

Why is Edward McMillan-Scott taking the parents of missing Madeleine McCann to the european parliament to make a case for Amber alert?.Mr and Mrs McCann are suspect in the disappearance of their daughter, who have brought shame onto the nation of british parents.
Amber alert would have done nothing to save their daughter, does this government have such a short memory that they cant remember these two doctors left all three of their children alone in their apartment each night on their holiday.These two doctors are NOT good role models for this cause,they should have invited sara payne,s mum to act as ambassador for amber alert,not two child neglectors.

  • 47.
  • At 10:21 AM on 06 Apr 2008,
  • Lucas wrote:

I think there should be a EU-wide amber alert system in place for serious cases where the police have reason to believe that a missing child might be smuggled out of the country.

A UK-wide amber alert system should be implemented, too.

  • 48.
  • At 10:13 PM on 07 Apr 2008,
  • Paul D wrote:

I think it is time for parents to look after their children, stop looking for excuses when they don't and suffer severely if they fail to do so.

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