Julie Bushby, who helped coordinate the search for the missing nine-year-old, stood by Matthews, even after she and Michael Donovan were jailed for the kidnapping and false imprisonment of her daughter.
Bushby visited Matthews in prison every month for four years, until she was informed by probation to stay away upon her release.
Now 46, Bushby has revealed intriguing insights into the case in the Channel 5 documentary Shannon Matthews: What Happened Next, due to air on Tuesday at 10pm.
Fascinatingly, Bushby reveals that she believes others aside from Matthews and Donovan, were involved in the ruse, and she insists the pair were not motivated by money.
During the trial it was claimed Matthews and Donovan had planned to “discover” Shannon themselves and thus claim a £50,000 reward offered by The Sun newspaper.
Bushby said: “I think others were involved, because like I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, Karen didn’t have the intelligence, and Donovan, from what the cops have said, he didn’t have the intelligence. But as for those saying it were for the £50,000 reward, I also don’t think that’s true, because the envelopes… the amount of envelopes she go through her door, offering her money for her story, were unbelievable. And she didn’t take one of them up. In fact, she did a story with one of the local papers.”
When asked why those “others” have not come forward, Bushby, who has more than once labelled Matthews as “stupid but not evil”, replied: “To protect themselves.”
She added: “What I’d love to do is get hold of everybody’s statements. That’s what I’d love to do, and sit them and scrutinise them. There are qualified coppers and they’ve probably all scrutinised these statements, but there’ll be something that I see that they don’t see.”
Astonishingly, PC Steve Kinchin, the neighbourhood policing team officer for Dewsbury Moor, backs up Bushby’s claims, admitting: “I would say on the balance of probabilities, yeah, there was others involved.”
However, he is adamant Matthews was motivated by money: “I can only believe why that particular event took place was purely financial and it was purely down to some type of financial reward. That’s the only thing I can put it down to. So it’s probably greed more than anything.”
Matthews, who continues to insist she had nothing to do with the abduction, has expressed wishes for the police to reinvestigate the case, cryptically claiming: “The truth’s going to come out.”
Though Bushby has not seen Matthews for five years and refuses to forgive her for the stunt, she expressed some sympathy towards her former friend, who was released in 2012, having served half of her sentence.
She said: “Yeah, I know what she did were wrong, but at the end of the day, to me she’s like a child. And a child always needs somebody.
“But I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. Life’s too short to hold grudges for the rest of your life. Karen… Karen’s got nobody. Yeah, everybody says she deserves nobody. She deserves to have a sad life, she deserves to have mushy peas poured over her head, etc etc. There’s worse people out there than her, and for some reason the press seem to think it’s a barrel of fun chasing her down all the time.”
Shannon is now 18 years of age and lives with a new family and Bushby urges her to get in touch.
She said: “I think mostly, what I’d like to say to Shannon is, I’d just like it if she got in contact, not with me personally, just with the kids that she went to school with, because 90% of them are still in that area. And it’d just be nice if she just… even if she turned up and went hi, because still to this day, them kids don’t know whether she’s dead or alive, because they’ve never seen her.”