A report on the opening day of the trial of convicted murderer Levi Bellfield and the background to the case including the legal aspect.
Levi Bellfield is a shockingly depraved individual. In February 2008 he was convicted of the murders of students Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of schoolgirl Kate Sheedy. Since then, he has been the subject of intense speculation, and prosecutors allege he is guilty of killing Milly Dowler.
Amanda Jane Dowler was born June 25, 1988. On March 21, 2002, the 13-year-old schoolgirl disappeared from Walton-on-Thames on her way home. This led to a massive missing person investigation. Six months later, her decomposed body was found in woodland some 25 miles away.
On March 30, 2010, after careful consideration of a dossier compiled by Surrey Police, the Crown Prosecution Service charged Bellfield with her murder and the attempted kidnap of a 12-year-old girl.
Two weeks ago, Victoria McEwan of CPS South East, confirmed his trial for both these alleged offences was due to begin on May 9. The trial is scheduled to last eight weeks. Yesterday morning, the website of the Central Criminal Court (the world famous Old Bailey) had the trial listed for Court 8 yesterday, but it did not start until today.
“The fact that Bellfield was due to stand trial could not previously be reported, but can now be revealed after a judge lifted an order preventing publication," the Daily Telegraph reports. "The trial opened at the Old Bailey this morning, where the jury was told about his past convictions.”
There were a few pages on Google News that reported the opening of the trial on the designated date. The website of the Daily Star newspaper of May 7 reported it was due to start May 10; the website of Eagle Radio reported, erroneously, on May 4 that the trial was due to start that day. These reports were removed quickly, probably by order of the DPP himself.
The big fear here is that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for Bellfield to receive a fair trial. Something American readers may have thought odd is that the jury has already been selected. In the now infamous trial of O.J. Simpson, jury selection took two months. Nothing like that ever happens in Britain and there are no jury profilers as in the current, and equally difficult case of Casey Anthony, the young woman who is shortly to stand trial for the murder of her baby daughter.
In Britain, most juries are sworn in in a matter of minutes, although the selection process may take longer for long trials or cases where the prosecution evidence may be controversial, or more often not for the faint-hearted.
It might be argued that putting Bellfield on trial is a pointless exercise because he has already been convicted of two murders and is considered so dangerous he is never likely to be freed, but there is a public interest in doing so.
After Britain’s most prolific serial killer, Dr Harold Shipman, was convicted of the murders of 15 of his patients, there was ample evidence for bringing further murder charges, but the DPP of the time ruled it would be impossible for him to get a fair trial. It would also have been pointless.
Shipman was convicted in January 2000 and committed suicide in Wakefield Prison four years later. But this trial is the culmination of one of the most intensive missing person and then murder investigations ever mounted by Surrey Police. It will also, hopefully, bring some sort of closure for the parents of Amanda Dowler.
This is not the first time that a convicted murderer with no expectation of ever being freed has been tried for another, unrelated murder.
In December 2009, Peter Tobin was convicted of the 1991 murder of Dinah McNicol; he was previously convicted in two separate trials of the 2006 murder of Angelika Kluk in Scotland, and the 1991 murder of 15 year old Victoria Hamilton, also in Scotland. The bodies of both Victoria Hamilton and Dinah McNichol were found buried in the garden of Tobin's home at Margate on the South East coast of England.
Normally in British courtrooms a defendant’s previous convictions will not be tendered in evidence, but of course that was not possible in Bellfield’s case due to the notoriety of his crimes. Bellfield has appealed both his murder convictions and his whole life tariff, but the evidence against him, including CCTV evidence, was considered overwhelming.
The trial will continue tomorrow.