Milly Dowler’s family launched a scathing attack on the British justice system today as their daughter’s “spineless and gutless” killer was given an unprecedented second whole-life jail term.
The Dowlers were also critical of the initial Surrey Police investigation during which chances were missed to catch Levi Bellfield, who went on to murder two more victims.
Milly’s mother Sally welcomed Bellfield’s conviction but said the trial had been a “truly awful experience” for her family.
Milly’s sister Gemma said the day her parents were questioned by Bellfield’s lawyer in court was the “worst day of my life” adding: “It feels like we were the criminals and we were on trial.”
Milly’s father Bob said his family had had to pay “too high a price” for Bellfield’s conviction, saying the trial had been a “mentally scarring process” and the justice system was loaded unfairly in favour of the criminal.
The family spoke outside the Old Bailey after Bellfield’s trial finally ended.
He was convicted yesterday of abducting and murdering 13-year-old Milly after she walked past his home.
The jury was discharged today without reaching a verdict on a charge of attempting to abduct 11-year-old Rachel Cowles the day before Bellfield snatched Milly in March 2002.
It took Milly’s family nine years to get justice, even though her killer had been living 50 yards from where she was last seen in Station Avenue, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey.
But justice came at the price of the Dowler family being “put on trial” in a process Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses Louise Casey condemned today as “quite appalling”.
Both Bob Dowler, 59, and his teacher wife Sally, 51, broke down while giving evidence when the defence probed into their lives and suggested their daughter may have run away because she was unhappy.
For Mr Dowler, an IT management consultant, there was the added humiliation of having to admit he had an interest in bondage sex and that police found a ball gag at the family home in Walton Park.
Milly had found a porn magazine with contact numbers for women providing kinky sex nine months before her death, and felt let down by her father, the court heard.
This led to detectives considering Mr Dowler as a suspect – the first of 54 checked out by Surrey Police over the years.
Milly’s sister Gemma was so upset that her evidence had to be read to the court.
Ms Casey said of the Dowlers’ experience in court: “We can’t let this continue,”
She said it was far from an isolated case and she warned that it must be stopped to avoid the risk of rapists and murderers walking the streets because people do not feel able to report crimes or give evidence.
Mr Dowler, standing alongside his wife and daughter, told reporters outside the Old Bailey that his family had paid "too high a price for this conviction".
He said: “The trial has been a truly horrifying ordeal for my family. We have had to relive all the emotions and thoughts of nine years ago when Milly first went missing and was then found murdered.
“During our questioning my wife and I both felt as though we were on trial.
“The questioning of my wife was particularly cruel and inhuman, resulting in her collapsing after leaving the stand.
“We despair of a justice system which is so loaded in favour of the perpetrator of the crime.”
Rachel Cowles, now 21, said she was “extremely hurt and angry” at being “robbed” of justice because some media reporting after yesterday’s murder verdict led to the jury’s discharge today.
Diana Cowles rang police when a man in a red car offered her daughter a lift but it was three years until officers interviewed her.
Police also knocked on the door of Bellfield’s flat in Collingwood Place, off Station Avenue, 11 times, but did not try to contact the letting agent to trace him.
Surrey chief constable Mark Rowley apologised to the Dowler family for mistakes which allowed the killer to slip through the net.
Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby said: “We must accept that mistakes were made and the chief constable has met with the Dowler and Cowles families and apologised.”
Bellfield went on to kill again twice before he was arrested by London police two years later.
The family of Marsha McDonnell, 19, who was battered to death by Bellfield in 2003, said an inquiry must see if anything could have been done to prevent the further loss of life.
In a statement issued by her uncle Shane McDonnell, the family said: “It is always easy in hindsight to make judgments showing how things could have been done differently.
“However, from facts that have emerged throughout this trial, it would appear there are some fundamental procedures that need clarification to show whether they were performed correctly, effectively or at all.
“Of course, no review will ever bring back our loved ones or take away the mental and physical anguish suffered by his victims but it may help to bring about practices that will ensure that similar errors or mistakes can never happen again.”
Bellfield moved his family out of Collingwood Place the day after killing Milly and dumping her body 25 miles away in Yateley Heath wood, Hampshire.
Milly’s bones were found six months later by mushroom pickers. She may have been strangled or suffocated, but it was impossible to say.
Bellfield, a former wheelclamper and bouncer, went on to kill Miss McDonnell and to murder Amelie Delagrange, 22, and attempt to murder Kate Sheedy, 18, in 2004.
All the attacks took place near bus stops on the borders of London and Surrey. There was no apparent motive except a hatred of women.
Bellfield, 43, was jailed for life for those crimes in February 2008 and was told he would never be released.
Today he was given a second whole-life jail term for the murder of Milly.
Her family hugged each other as Bellfield was told he would never be released. He is thought to be the first person to receive a second whole-life sentence.
He declined to come to court and face his accusers when he was jailed today - just as he did the last time.
The judge, Mr Justice Wilkie, described him as a “cruel and pitiless killer”.
The judge added: “To this is added the fact that, as on another occasion at this court, he has not had the courage to come into court to face his victims and receive his sentence.”
He said Milly’s family had suffered nearly a decade of torment and that the trial process had been “excruciating” for them.
“No-one who has been in court can have been in any doubt that the Dowler family has suffered indescribable agonies during almost a decade over the loss of their beloved daughter Milly, for which all our hearts go out to them,” said the judge.
“In an important sense, this agony may be thought to have culminated in this trial.
“I appreciate that the trial process has been excruciating for them by reason of the issues the defendant instructed his lawyers to raise in his defence.
“I understand that they feel let down by the trial process in that respect.
“Unfortunately, given the nature of the defence, it was unavoidable that these issues be pursued in court.
“All that I can do is hope that they may in time come to terms with that and that the outcome of the trial may in some small way contribute to their grieving process and assist them in coming to a semblance of closure.”
Detective Chief Inspector Maria Woodall paid tribute to the Dowler family's "outstanding strength and courage".
She said: “Milly’s family have been tortured by the actions of this devious and dangerous man.”
While acknowledging that mistakes were made, Ms Woodall said the police inquiry had been “long, complicated and challenging”.
Roger Coe Salazar, chief Crown Prosecution Service lawyer for the South East, said later: “There is no doubt that this experience has been extremely distressing for the Dowler family and it is impossible not to be moved and disturbed by the sentiments they have expressed today.
“A prime focus of the prosecution team from the outset was to provide as much support to the Dowler family as possible.
“However we must recognise that there are some aspects of the trial, in particular in cross examination, which no amount of general foresight can ever prepare someone for.
“We were legally required to disclose to the defence evidence obtained during the initial police investigation into Mr Dowler.
“This was because that evidence became relevant to the defence being put forward to the jury, irrespective of it being a defence that the prosecution dismissed as being ludicrous and which observers may have found offensive.
“I know they feel today that the jury trial process has let them down, but I hope that in the future the pain and anguish they are presently feeling will be somewhat diluted as a result of the convictions secured today.”