THE search for missing Dewsbury Moor schoolgirl Shannon Matthews has entered its seventh day – and police say they are still focusing their hunt on the areas where she was last seen.
But Shannon’s uncle has admitted he fears his nine-year-old niece may no longer be in West Yorkshire.
Neil Hyett, 36, of Moorside Road, said: “A lot of people think she is still in this area. But around 70% of my mind suggests she is not and has been picked up and taken out of West Yorkshire.”
He said talk of her running away from home is unbelievable.
“She’s a little girl, timid and scared of the dark. The only time she goes off the street is when she is with someone going to the shop for something.”
However, he said he is still optimistic that she will be found and praised the efforts of his local community in giving their support to the search.
“I’m optimistic and I believe she is out there. We couldn’t ask any more of the local community. They have been brilliant.”
Police have searched more than 200 homes and received over 300 calls from the public in their huge search for Shannon.
The schoolgirl, from Moorside Road, Dewsbury Moor, failed to return home from school after a swimming trip last Tuesday afternoon.
The police operation, which has involved 250 officers and desperate day-and-night searches by friends and relatives, has so far failed to find a trace of Shannon.
Officers have searched more than 200 homes within a half-mile radius of Moorside Road and leaflets appealing for information about Shannon’s whereabouts have also been distributed around the area.
The police operation focused on areas close to her family home and groups of officers could be seen conducting house to house inquiries in the vicinity on Sunday.
A spokeswoman for West Yorkshire Police described the investigation as “extensive”, but stressed that the door-to-door inquiries were part of the wider hunt.
She said: “West Yorkshire Police is carrying out a large number of searches in and around the area where Shannon lives.
“This forms an important part of the investigation to build up a clearer picture of Shannon and her lifestyle and should not be seen as unusual.”
The community has rallied around the family with worried neighbours and family members, some wearing T-shirts showing pictures of the schoolgirl, gathering at the residents’ association hall near her home.
Shannon failed to return home after being dropped off with classmates at Westmoor Junior School on Church Lane, following a swimming lesson.
Prayers were said yesterday for Shannon at St James Church in Heckmondwike. The congregation began their Sunday service with wishes for her safe return.
The vicar of Heckmondwike, the Rev Simon Pitcher, said: “We lit a candle and we had a silence so we could pray for her family and for her safe return.”
West Yorkshire Police are focusing their search on areas close to her family home. Officers are continuing house to house inquiries, recovering CCTV footage and following up information from members of the public.
Officers have carried out detailed searches of properties in the area and have paid particular attention to areas where children are known to congregate.
One such area is Millbrook Pond, off Longlands Road, near Dewsbury District Hospital. Underwater search teams visited the pond for a second time on Saturday morning. Officers also scoured large storm drains in the area.
Chief Supt Barry South, Kirklees police divisional commander, said they wanted to be sure they had made comprehensive checks of all key areas.
He said police were now ‘gravely concerned’ for the youngster’s safety.
“We have got to remain optimistic but at the same time we are now gravely concerned. What we have got to do though is maintain the activity we have been doing over the last few days.”
The last confirmed sighting of Shannon was at Westmoor Junior School on Church Lane at 3.10pm on Tuesday.
Unconfirmed sightings were made on Tuesday evening at a park at the junction of Staincliffe Road and Heckmondwike Road and on the playing fields near her school.
A man believed he saw Shannon walking on Moorcroft Road towards School Lane at 9.30am on Wednesday.
Members of the Dewsbury Moor community have been conducting day and night searches since Shannon vanished.
Chief Supt South praised their commitment to finding Shannon, but said police did not want people to put themselves at risk by going out to search. Instead, he said they can help the investigation by handing out special leaflets appealing for information.
Some residents travelled to Elland Road football ground on Saturday to hand out leaflets at the Leeds United vs Crewe Alexandra match. Others have been patrolling the streets of Dewsbury Moor handing out leaflets and wearing special T-shirts with a message asking people if they have seen Shannon.
Chief Supt South said: “The community want to, and quite rightly, have a part to play. Local residents really, really have a strong will to get involved and feel as though they are doing their part.”
Police are appealing for anyone with information to contact police, no matter how insignificant they feel it may be. Anyone with information can contact West Yorkshire Police on 01274 373737, or by text on 07786 200806, or, alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Members of the community who would like to help distributing leaflets to raise awareness of Shannon’s disappearance can contact the Moorside residents’ association on 0751 273 9657.