The 43-year-old was locked up for four years after abducting her own daughter in a sick bid for a £50,000 cash reward.
Ten years on from her horrific crime, Karen this week denied she is "Britain's worst mum" in a brazen attempt to clear her name.
She has since met with her old ally and neighbour from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, at a secret location in the southern town she now lives in.
Julie Bushby gave evidence against Matthews at her trial – and was praised by the judge for her honesty.
The Mirror reported how Karen Matthews told Julie: “I don’t hate you. You weren’t lying, just saying it as it was.
"In fact, I love you to bits.”
The mum-of-seven became friends with Julie when she launched a frantic campaign to find her missing nine-year-old daughter Shannon.
Even once the search was revealed as a sick farce, Julie stood by the hated kidnapper.
Matthews, who met her in a park at the weekend, said: “She’s been my friend from day one and she’s the only one who didn’t betray me when others did. I don’t hate her at all for it.
“She just did what Julie does, she was straight and honest.”
Julie said she got in touch with Karen again after being approached on Facebook by acquaintances worried about her mixing with a wrong crowd.
But Karen dispelled one of the allegations – about her having a 72-year-old sugar daddy.
Now a born again Christian and charity shop worker, Karen admitted she was "so lonely" and talked to an older man for company – but was not interested in men anymore romantically.
She also denied claims she sold Pret sandwiches to the homeless, saying: "I wouldn't con homeless people. I've got a good heart really."
The pair took a pleasure boat trip on the surreal reunion, during which Julie had to apologise for forgetting to call Matthews by her new name.
Suggesting she was ashamed of her past actions, Karen said of her old name: “I don’t know her.”
All seven of Karen's children are now living under new identities and are not believed to have had contact with their kidnapper mum since the scandal in 2008.
Julie, who was played by Sheridan Smith in The Moorside, the BBC1 drama of the scandal said: “I know a lot of people rightly condemn her for what she did but she’s served her time and must be given a chance to have a life.
“She is only trying to have a life… what’s left of it. There’s plenty of criminals out there that have done worse crimes but they’re not being hounded all the time like she is.
“She’s damaged and has been used and abused all her life.
“She’s told lots and lots of lies and still is – but somebody has to help her.”
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