Shannon Matthews, the 9-year-old girl whose disappearance more than three weeks ago sparked one of the U.K.'s biggest-ever police searches, was found alive and well Friday afternoon.
Specialist police search officers discovered Shannon hidden in the base of a divan bed in a flat in Lidgate Gardens in Batley Carr — about a mile from her home in Dewsbury — after breaking down the door of the property.
"A 39-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of abduction at the address and is currently in custody at a West Yorkshire Police Station," police said.
A neighbor, Christopher Heaps, said that he went out into the street after hearing police break down the door of the property at around 12:30 p.m.
"When I went out I saw the policeman carrying the young girl in his arms. I said 'Is that Shannon?' and he said 'Yes.'" She was calm and placid, he said.
Asked about the man who occupied the flat, he replied: "I don't know much. He seems to be like a loner we don't see much of him really. I saw the man being dragged down the steps and handcuffed and put into a van. He was on his knees, more or less."
Shannon's aunt, Amanda Hyett, said: "I can't believe it — what an incredible relief."
Shannon disappeared in Dewsbury on Feb. 19 after a school swimming trip. Her disappearance prompted West Yorkshire's biggest police operation since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper in the late 1970s.
Some 300 police officers were involved, as well as police sniffer dogs and even mountain rescue teams, and more than 500 houses searched. Some 1,500 motorists were stopped for questioning during the inquiry.
Karen Matthews, Shannon's mother, was taken from her home by a police liaison officer shortly after 2 p.m. It was thought that she was being taken to see her daughter — possibly at a local hospital where the girl was taken for check-ups.
Earlier this week Karen Matthews, a 32-year-old mother of seven, said that she believed someone she knows had snatched her daughter to hurt her. But the mother said she did not know who could have taken the shy youngster.
"She got abducted," she said. "That’s all I can say."
Asked if she thought it was someone she knew who took her, she said: "It seems that way because there’s no trace of her at all. There’s no trace of her swimming costume, her towel or anything like that that she’s taken with her."
Among those reacting to the news today was Clarence Mitchell, spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, who said: "If these reports are true it is excellent news that she is alive. I have told Gerry about this and he and Kate are very pleased.
"This of course gives them every encouragement to keep up the search for Madeleine. The fact that Shannon has been found shows gives Kate and Gerry great hope and it shows that it can happen, that Madeleine can be found."