Yesterday, the jury in Regina v Levi Bellfield returned a guilty verdict
on a man who is already serving a life sentence for the murders of two young women. In February 2008
, Bellfield was convicted of murdering students Marsha McDonnell and Amélie Delagrange. Yesterday, he was convicted of the March 2002 murder of thirteen year old Amanda (Milly) Dowler, but the jury had yet to reach a verdict on the charge that he had attempted to kidnap another schoolgirl at the same time. Unfortunately, Mr Justice Wilkie did not give any directions regarding reporting restrictions, so the British media assumed it was okay to go ahead and report his conviction together with considerable detail of his background, and speculation about other crimes he may have committed.
As a result of that coverage, this morning the defence made a submission citing an “avalanche of adverse publicity” with particular reference to two women who had lived with Bellfield, and comments attributed to them. The judge added some comments of his own calling the coverage “deplorable”, adding that “the trigger had been pulled too soon”, and discharging the jury before they could reach a verdict on his alleged attempt to kidnap Rachel Cowles
. Because Bellfield had refused to attend court, he delivered his sentencing to an empty dock. It has been published in full
by the Daily Telegraph
After the trial, Rachel Cowles said she had been denied justice; although the evidence that Bellfield had attempted to lure her into his car in March 2002 was extremely tenuous, no one who has followed the career of this psychopath will doubt that he should have been found guilty as charged. The evidence that he kidnapped and murdered Milly Dowler is more substantial; although there were no eyewitnesses to any facet of the crime – the thirteen year old having disappeared in “the blink of an eye” - the jury will rightly have drawn inferences from his peculiar behaviour at the time, in particular what appears to have been a visit to the empty Collingwood Place apartment specifically to destroy evidence, and perhaps also to dispose of her body.
If Rachel Cowles was disappointed, the family of Milly Dowler were extremely angry, feeling they had been dragged through the mud by innuendo and scurrilous cross-examination. The main reason for this appears to have been the interest Milly’s father Bob had for bondage and kinky sex. When Milly failed to return home from school, a missing person investigation was launched. As there was nothing to indicate she had been kidnapped, the police had no reason to fear the worse at that point, so they looked around for clues as to why she might have run away from home, something that is not exactly unknown for teenagers of a certain age, especially girls.
It came to light that Milly had found a pornographic magazine which belonged to her father, and this was thought to have upset her; Mr Dowler was also apparently interested in bondage. The police thought this may have been a factor in her disappearance, which was certainly a valid line of inquiry, but it remains to be seen why possession of such material should have been regarded as a cause of suspicion for foul play on the part of Mr Dowler in 21st Century Britain at a time when “out” homosexuals occupy positions of power in government, and where “smut” of all kinds is openly available on the Internet, TV, and even on the top shelf of the local newsagent. This trivial incident and the possession of perfectly legal pornography (can bondage even be considered sex?) led Surrey Police to treat Mr Dowler as a suspect in the murder of his daughter, which again was a valid line of inquiry, but it should have been only one of many. In 1993, Doreen Lawrence
was subjected, briefly, to similar scrutiny following the murder of her son, something she attributed to police racism
, although she does not appear to have been “bugged” as were the Dowlers.
There were also apparent sightings of Milly all around the UK and from as far afield as Fiji. This is by no means unusual; there were many false sightings in the ongoing Casey Anthony case
at a time when the victim, two year old Caylee, was clearly dead.
All this was of course dragged up in court by Bellfield’s counsel in order to induce a reasonable doubt, a strategy that was clearly unsuccessful. Outside the court, Mrs Dowler said she hoped Bellfield spent the rest of his life in Hell, while Gemma, Milly’s elder sister, said she believed he should be executed.
All this is tragic and sad in equal measure, but however unprofessional, reprehensible or just off the wall the behaviour of Surrey Police, one man and one man alone is responsible for the grief, pain and suffering endured by this family. And it may be he is responsible for even more grief, pain and suffering to other families, in particular the family of Dr Lin Russell, because the solicitor acting for Michael Stone is now pressuring for an investigation into the possible role of Bellfield in the heinous crime for which Stone has been behind bars for nearly fourteen years, the Chillenden Murders
. And now, for the first time ever, the mainstream national media is giving this credible hypothesis serious consideration