10 May 2011

Milly Dowler vanished ‘in the blink of an eye’

The jury in the Milly Dowler murder case hears how the accused Levi Bellfield lived “literally just yards” away from the spot the 13-year-old was last seen.

In his opening statement to the jury, Brian Altman QC – appearing for the prosecution – said that Bellfield is “proven to be a violent offender towards young women” and has already been convicted for two murders and one attempted murder.

Mr Altman said there was “no doubt” in the prosecution’s mind that he also killed Milly Dowler.

The 13-year old was walking home from Walton-on-Thames railway station after school. She “disappeared in a flash on a suburban street in broad daylight,” said Mr Altman, “gone in the blink of an eye”. Her body was not found for “six long months”, her family suffering “the excrutiating agony of not knowing what happened”.

Milly was last seen “literally just yards” away from the flat where Bellfield, his wife and two children lived in Walton-on-Thames.

The jury were told how Milly had had an ordinary day, travelled home from school with her friends by train, and then spent some time with them at the station cafe before beginning her walk home down Station Avenue, a route that ran moments away from where Bellfield lived in Collingwood Place.

Milly made a tragic decision to take another route home that day so she could share chips with her friends. Mr Altman explained: “It meant her taking a fateful journey along Station Avenue where, unbeknown to her, her abductor and killer was soon to strike.”

Attempted kidnap

Mr Altman also alleged that Bellfield tried to abduct another girl just a day before Milly went missing, a few miles away from his home. 11-year-old Rachel Cowles described a man in a red car who approached her on 20 March in nearby Shepperton.

“He tried tricking her by telling her that he had just moved in next door and asked her if she wanted a lift.

Milly Dowler went missing in March 2002

“Sensibly she did not accept his offer. At this time, a police car was driven along the road, which possibly spooked the man and he drove off.”

Public appeal

Having gained public awareness following an appeal on the BBC Crimewatch TV programme, as well as £100,000 from a campaign run by The Sun newspaper, the hunt for Milly Dowler became one of the most public murder cases this century.

Photos of Milly, as well as videos of her playing the saxophone and ironing, were released as part of the investigation.

Milly’s remains were discovered on 18 September 2002, nearly 30 miles away from where she went missing, by mushroom pickers in a wood. The cause of death could not be determined from the remains and her body was identified from dental records.

In 2008 Bellfield was convicted of the murders of Marsha McDonnell, 19, in 2003 and 22-year-old Amelie Delagrange in 2004 with the use of a blunt weapon. Earlier in 2004 he also attempted to murder Kate Sheedy by running her over.

It is the belief of the prosecution that there are similarities with the Milly Dowler evidence and these murders that link Bellfield with her death.

The trial is expected to last two months