A review of a "Crimewatch" special following the conviction of Levi Bellfield for the murder of Surrey schoolgirl Amanda Dowler.
This was the title of a Crimewatchspecial programme screened by BBC Television last night. At the Central Criminal Court on June 23, Levi Bellfield was convicted of the March 2002 murder of 13 year old Amanda (Milly) Dowler; in this one-off documentary we are given an overview of the investigation including a collation of information that shows the case against Bellfield was a lot stronger than news reports scattered over a six week period suggest – including reports that appeared on this site!
Presented by Crimewatch regular Kirsty Young and based largely around an interview with Gemma Dowler, the victim’s elder sister, it reveals that Surrey Police had been seriously concerned about the girl’s disappearance almost from the off, but that she was almost certainly dead within minutes of being snatched off the street at Walton-on-Thames by the psychopath who would go on to murder (at least) twice more before being brought to book.
The Dowler family phoned the police around 7pm that night, by which time Bellfield had probably already decided where to dispose of the body. A few hours later he drove to a stretch of woodland some twenty-five miles away, a place he knew well, and dumped the naked corpse where it would be found, skeletonised, by a couple out mushroom picking six months later.
A Crimewatch reconstruction on March 28, 2002 led nowhere in the first instance, but 20 months after the murder, Surrey Police received a phone call from a senior detective serving with the Metropolitan Police. That officer, DCI Colin Sutton, had previously served with Surrey Police, and recognised the address, 24 Collingwood Place – which had appeared in an investigation with which he was concerned.
In May 2004, 18 year old Kate Sheedy was on her way home after a night out when she saw Bellfield’s parked car and had “a very bad feeling” about it. She crossed the road, only to be run down and reversed over. The programme actually played the 999 call she made as she lay on the ground with near fatal injuries. She was able to give the police a very good description of his vehicle down to a damaged wing mirror, and Bellfield was linked to the February 2003 murder of student Marsha Mcdonnell, but was not apprehended until after he had murdered Amélie Delagrange in August 2004.
His trial for these offences opened October 12, 2007, and he was convicted on February 25, 2008, by which time Surrey Police had been building a case against him for the Dowler murder for over two years; he was actually questioned about this as early as July 6, 2005, at Woking.
What was also noticeable about this inquiry is one of the regular but unavoidable features of any major police investigation: red herrings. One was the (in retrospect unfortunate) investigation of the Dowler family – which was not discussed here – another was the footage of a car that was picked up on CCTV. It was sent off to the FBI who spent months working on it, only for the suspect car to be eliminated. There were also over 4,000 calls from the public in the first few weeks, alleged sightings of Milly from seventy areas of the UK, and one from Fiji. It was expert witness Andy Laws whose analysis of local CCTV footage was able to rule out a kidnap involving a vehicle, and which led inevitably to the theory – which the jury appears to have accepted – that Milly was snatched off the street and either frogmarched or carried unconscious to Bellfield’s old apartment. Only one man knows precisely what happened that day and on what time scale, and he has never shown the slightest inclination to tell.
Rachel Cowles was also interviewed in this programme, and although she was unable to identify Bellfield himself, the description she gave of the vehicle he was driving tallied with that given by Emma Mills, to whom Bellfield once joked that he’d killed the missing Surrey schoolgirl.
The programme is currently available on BBC iplayer at this link; for those unable to view it, watch out for it on YouTube.