The uncle who came face to face with Milly Dowler’s killer just hours after she disappeared tells Channel 4 News his family have been “damaged yet again” by the trial.
Brian Gilbertson spoke out after an Old Bailey jury found the 43-year-old guilty of abducting and murdering his 13-year-old niece in March 2002.
Mr Gilbertson played a dramatic part in the trial when he told the jury how he saw Bellfield in the street as he frantically searched for his niece near the scene of her disappearance, but did not realise he was looking at the murderer.
He told Channel 4 News how Milly’s family were traumatised again when Bellfield forced them to give evidence in his trial, while refusing to be cross-examined himself.
Despite having already been told he would die in prison for the brutal murders of two young women and the attempted murder of a third, Bellfield pleaded not guilty to any involvement in Milly’s disappearance and declined to give evidence in the witness box.
Instead, the former nightclub bouncer and wheelclamper tried to implicate Milly’s father Bob in her disappearance by suggesting that Milly had been traumatised by finding a pornographic magazine in his bedroom.
And Bellfield’s defence counsel had letters from Milly read to the jury in which she spoke of being unhappy, prompting her mother Sally to break down in tears in the witness box.
The way Milly was portrayed was no way representative of her life. Brian Gilbertson
But the jury of four men and seven women took less than two days to reach a unanimous guilty verdict on charges of kidnapping and murder.
Milly’s mother Sally and sister Gemma collapsed in hysterics as the verdicts were read out, while Bellfield showed no emotion.
Bellfield is also accused of attempting to abduct 11-year-old Rachel Cowles the day before in March 2002. The jury have not yet reached a verdict on that charge.
In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News, Milly’s uncle Brian Gilbertson said Milly was a happy, confident teenager, and the fact that her family had been forced to relive their ordeal and refute Bellfield’s lies “has damaged them yet again”.
He added: “It’s going to be years before they can even try and smile at each other after what the defence counsel have tried to portray. The way Milly was portrayed was no way representative of her life.”
The former pub landlord told the jury how he believes he came face-to-face with Bellfield as he was scouring the streets near Milly’s home in the early hours of the morning after she was snatched from Station Avenue, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on 21 March, 2002.
He said he saw a “very sturdily-built gentleman” walking a dog nearby, and was struck by how confidently the man walked towards him, despite the fact that he had a torch and a baseball bat in his hands.
Prosecutor Brian Altman QC told the jury Bellfield snatched Milly “in the blink of an eye” in broad daylight, then killed her in his nearby flat before disposing of the body in woods in Yateley Heath Woods, near Farnborough, Hampshire, where her remains were found six months later.
“No one saw it, or saw it for what it was, such was the skill, brazenness and resourcefulness of her abductor and killer,” Mr Altman said.
Bellfield was already serving life for the murders of Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell, 19, as well as the attempted murder of 18-year-old Kate Sheedy, when he was brought back to the Old Bailey for a second trial.
The killer, who has fathered 11 children with five different women, was arrested for Milly’s murder three years ago while in custody awaiting trial for the other murders. But he was never charged because there was insufficient evidence to put before a jury.
When new evidence emerged, Bellfield denied all involvement and instead got his counsel to reveal to the jury that Milly’s father had been one of the original suspects in the missing persons inquiry.
Mr Dowler was forced to admit that Milly had found bondage pornography hidden in the family home and had confronted his wife about it, but denied it had caused a rift in the family.
The jury were also read a “goodbye” letter written by Milly to her parents in which she described herself as “your little disappointment”.
Her mother, who told the court she suffered a nervous breakdown in the wake of Milly’s abduction, tearfully insisted the Dowlers had been “a happy family”.
Mr Altman urged the jury to reject the slurs, saying: “There is only one person on trial in this court room and that person is Levi Bellfield. Yet he, unlike the Dowlers, has not had the courage to give you his account tested in the witness box, explaining his behaviour and his words over those days in March 2002.”