Police Chief "Embarrassed" By Trial

22 June 2011, 13:14 | Updated: 26 June 2011, 09:26

The Chief Constable of Surrey has criticised the way Milly Dowler's family were cross-questioned during the Levi Bellfield trial.

Writing in The Times, Mark Rowley said he was upset and embarrassed by the trial and could understand why the family now regretted the case ever coming to court.

The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has said he would examine how victims are treated in court after admitting the Milly Dowler case raised ``fundamental questions''.

Former nightclub bouncer Levi Bellfield was given a life sentence for murdering Milly, 13, from Walton-On-Thames, who disappeared on her way home from school in 2002. 

After the trial Surrey Police apologised for mistakes in the investigation.

Police 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.

Diana Cowles rang police when a man in a red car offered her daughter a lift but it was three years before officers interviewed her.

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, 43, went on to kill again twice before he was arrested two years later.

Milly Dowler background

The eldest daughter of Milly Dowler's killer Levi Bellfield has told of her sympathy for the teenager's family and said a jail sentence was ``not enough of a punishment''.

Writing to Milly's parents and sister, Bobbie Bellfield, 20, said it made her ``sick'' to think she was related to the murderer, whom she branded a ``monster''.

Levi Bellfield was jailed for life on Friday for murdering 13-year-old Milly as questions were raised about the adversarial nature of the trial system, which distressed the Dowlers.

In her open letter, published in the Sunday Mirror, Ms Bellfield said: ``I'm writing to you because I want to say how sorry I am for what my dad has put your family through.

``I felt physically sick when I found out he had killed your daughter and I couldn't watch as you spoke outside the court about the hell you had all gone through to get justice.''

Referring to comments made by Milly's sister, she added: ``Gemma, I think you were right when you said 'a life for a life'. Being locked up is not enough of a punishment for what he has done.''

Ms Bellfield, who is one of four daughters born to the killer's one-time girlfriend Becky Wilkinson, says she cannot bring herself to call him dad.

Yesterday, a criminal barrister gave her backing to defence lawyers after the director of public prosecutions said he would examine how victims were treated in court following the Milly Dowler case.

Kirsty Brimelow QC said that she felt ``the balance is right'' and that lawyers needed to ``go in fairly strong'' during cross-examination of a witness.

The most senior police officer in the Milly case criticised the ``disgraceful lack of humanity'' in the justice system following the ordeal suffered by the schoolgirl's family.

But Ms Brimelow said that the need to persuade a jury of their client's innocence already placed a restraint on defence lawyers.

She told Sky News: ``Barristers try very much not to be unpleasant to witnesses, not to be aggressive, because it is actually counter-productive to defending in a case.

``But we are in an adversarial system and sometimes perhaps things may well get carried away in court and cause distress.''

She added: ``Generally I think the balance is right. You are defending somebody in the dock who, at the beginning, automatically people think, 'What has that person done?', so generally the defence has to go in fairly strong and sometimes the instructions are the witness is lying and sometimes that is correct.

``You can't actually pull away too far from a defendant's right to have a trial and in fact that person in the dock may well be not guilty and you can't lose sight of that.''

But Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, said: ``This trial has raised some fundamental questions about the treatment of victims and witnesses in the court process.

``Those questions require answers and we will be contributing to the review by the Ministry of Justice into all aspects of victim support.''

Surrey Police chief constable Mark Rowley, whose force apologised for missed opportunities that could have led to Bellfield's arrest, said he was ``upset and embarrassed'' by the justice system's treatment of the family.

Writing in The Times, he said there were ``systemic flaws'' that must be ``fundamentally rebalanced'', and called for a process that enabled ``the proper testing of witnesses without destroying them in public''.

Milly's mother Sally, father Bob and sister Gemma hit out at the ``horrifying ordeal'' of the trial at the Old Bailey.

Mrs Dowler, 51, called the process an ``awful experience'', and said: ``Our family, who have already suffered so much, has been put on trial as much as Bellfield.''

Mr Dowler, 59, said his family had to pay ``too high a price'' for conviction, adding: ``The questioning of my wife was particularly cruel and inhuman.''

Surrey Police apologised for errors which allowed Bellfield to go undetected for more than two years, during which he killed two others.

Bellfield lived 50 yards from where Milly vanished in 2002 but did not become a suspect until he was arrested by London police for the other crimes in 2004.

Bellfield is the first person to receive two whole-life jail terms. He refused to attend court to face Milly's family when he was sentenced.

Milly disappeared on her way home from school in Station Road, Walton-on-Thames, in March 2002. Her decomposed body was found six months later in a wood in Yateley Heath, Hampshire, 25 miles away. It was impossible to say how she died.

Mr Dowler became the first suspect after he told officers his daughter had accidentally discovered one of his porn magazines and admitting his interest in bondage.

Both parents broke down in court after being cross-examined about how they coped with the situation and questioned about notes written by the teenager.

The jury was discharged on a charge of attempting to abduct 11-year-old Rachel Cowles the day before Bellfield snatched Milly in March 2002 and the offence was ordered to lie on file, not to be proceeded with, because of adverse publicity.

Bellfield, a former wheelclamper and bouncer, was absent from court in 2008 when he was given a whole-life jail term for murdering Marsha McDonnell, 19, in 2003 and murdering Amelie Delagrange, 22, and attempting to murder Kate Sheedy, 18, in 2004.