KIDNAPPED schoolgirl Shannon Matthews' best pal has revealed the moment she believed she was dead in a harrowing new documentary.
In 2008, the youngster – then aged nine – vanished on her way home from a swimming lesson in Dewesbury, West Yorks, sparking a huge £3.2million search.
Hundreds of neighbours and friends joined the mission with Shannon's mum Karen sobbing on TV as she pleaded for her daughter to come home.
But in a shocking twist, the monster had drugged her daughter and hidden her in a divan bed in a callous bid to claim the £50,000 reward.
The discovery, made 24 days after Shannon vanished, stunned the nation and caused heartache for those who had helped in the search.
Among those left devastated by the truth was her best friend Megan Aldridge.
She has now told of her touching friendship with Shannon and opened up about the sickening kidnap plot in Channel 5 documentary The Disappearance of Shannon Matthew.
Megan says: "That afternoon we were going to the swimming baths with school and as usual me and Shannon paired up together straightaway.
"When that was over we got on the coach back together. Once we got off the coach, something didn't seem right.
“Cause her mum told her, her brother was picking her up that day after school but he never showed up. Cause normally if, like, she sends one of the kids to pick Shannon up from school, they’d be waiting outside the gates before we even got there. But there was no one there.
"That was literally, like, the last time I saw her."
Panic soon hit the Moorside housing estate as word of Shannon's disappearance spread.
A close-knit community, neighbours came out in their droves to help find the schoolgirl.
But Megan feared her best friend had died when she went out with police to fields in the area as part of the hunt.
She says: "We were on the greenway where all the foxholes and stuff like that are.
"I just thought she might be down there and that made me think, 'they're not going to find her, she's not going to come home'."
More than 250 officers and 60 detectives were involved in the search with cops quizzing 1,500 motorists and searching 3,000 addresses.
The nine-year-old was eventually found tethered and drugged inside the base of a double bed at Michael Donovan’s grotty flat almost a month after she disappeared.
An elasticated strap with a noose on the end was found in his loft and used as a method of restraint when he went out.
With it around her waist, Shannon would have been able to use the toilet and certain rooms, but not get out of the flat.
Karen was going out with Donovan’s nephew Craig Meehan at the time and the pair devised the elaborate plot between them.
They had planned to release the schoolgirl, "discover her" then take her to a police station and claim the £50,000 reward before splitting the cash.
Karen had broken down and admitted the cruel plot to when questioned by her friends in front of a police liason officer.
The news sent shockwaves across the country – but for Megan, the truth caused a heartbreaking ripple that devastated her own life.
Shannon was taken into care and given a new identity after the discovery – meaning Megan hasn't seen or spoken to her best friend in 14 years.
She says: "It was upsetting and still is upsetting I'm not going to see her.
"I literally lost my best friend, like the only person i want to talk to and wanted to be around.
"I genuinely hope she's living the life she wanted now after everything she's been through, she deserves to be happy."
On December 4, 2008, mum-of-seven Karen and Donovan were found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.
Both were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court to eight years behind bars.
Meehan was jailed for 20 weeks after unrelated child sex abuse material was discovered on his computer.
Matthews, who has been dubbed Britain’s Most Hated Mum, was released from prison in 2012 after serving just half her sentence.
She has since found love with a convicted paedophile and is living a new life under a different name.
- The Disappearance of Shannon Matthews, is an ITN Productions for Channel 5, Wednesday 10th Feb & Thursday 11th February at 9pm
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