Friday, June 24, 2011

Blunders of British police who insisted: Milly Dowler's dad did it

It took them 9 years to find the real murderer despite an abundance of clues

An extraordinary anti-terrorist-style surveillance operation was launched against Milly Dowler's father in the weeks after her disappearance. So convinced were police that Bob Dowler had killed his daughter that they were blind to the possibility of other suspects. Instead of hunting the real murderer, they bugged IT consultant Mr Dowler during the crucial early stages of the bungled inquiry.

Recording and tracking devices were placed in his home and car, while a surveillance team was on standby 24 hours a day to clock his every move in the belief that he would lead officers to his daughter's body. Deeply personal discussions between Mr Dowler, his wife Sally and daughter Gemma were relayed to a police station.

The operation was launched because police had initial doubts over Mr Dowler's alibi. Officers also found pornography and bondage equipment during a search of the family home. None of the material found was illegal.

Detectives admit the surveillance operation on Mr Dowler was a 'major distraction' in the early days of the investigation, but insist it had to be carried out to rule him out of the inquiry. They also point out that abductions by strangers are notoriously difficult to solve.

But critics claim the bugging initiative was one of many blunders which enabled Bellfield to go on to murder Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange.

Milly was last seen alive at 4.08pm on March 21, 2002, as she walked along Station Avenue in Walton-on-Thames, and police were soon deluged with information.

There were 70 different sightings in the UK plus others as far away as Fiji. So desperate were senior officers for a breakthrough that two detectives even visited a psychic medium in Ireland (not surprisingly, nothing came of their trip).

A month before Milly vanished, Bellfield is believed to have exposed himself to an 18-year-old girl as she walked down Station Avenue, Walton – the very street from which Milly was snatched.

The flasher followed her along the road before dropping his trousers. The case was reported to police but incredibly not linked to Milly's disappearance because the victim was five years older.

For nearly three years, officers in the Milly inquiry were unaware that at the time she vanished, Bellfield was living with his girlfriend Emma Mills in Collingwood Place, Walton, only yards from where his victim was last seen. He fled the property days after the murder.

Officers called at the property ten times during the following two years before finally getting a reply on the 11th visit in May 2004. Even then, they failed to establish that Bellfield had been living there at the time of Milly's kidnap. Had his links to the property been realised, background checks would have identified him as a strong suspect, and possibly saved lives.

Bellfield was no stranger to police. Between 2000 to 2002, officers received 93 reports linking him to sexual assaults, threats, obscene phone calls and physical attacks. And in August 2002, five months after Milly vanished, another unit in Surrey Police identified Bellfield as being behind a credit-card fraud operation at the Collingwood Place address. But still the murder officers failed to spot his links to the property. Bellfield was arrested over the fraud on August 23, 2004, in West London. Even then he was quickly released by detectives who failed to link him to his trail of murderous destruction.

Four days earlier, he had bludgeoned Amelie Delagrange to death, having killed Marsha McDonnell a few miles away 18 months earlier.

It was only after Bellfield was arrested that November over the murder of Amelie that Surrey officers belatedly discovered his links to Collingwood Place and began investigating the theory that he abducted Milly. They were tipped off by top Scotland Yard murder squad officer, Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, about Bellfield's links to Walton-on-Thames.

Surrey officers then carried out more research and found that Bellfield had access to a red Daewoo Nexia car, his girlfriend's, which was reported stolen 24 hours after Milly vanished. Officers re-examined CCTV footage and discovered the car (a 'red splodge' later identified as a Nexia) coming out of Copenhagen Way into Station Avenue about 22 minutes after Milly was last seen. Fresh analysis also revealed the N-registered Daewoo parked in the street half an hour before Milly vanished. Bellfield immediately became the prime suspect.

The delay in identifying him as the culprit meant Surrey officers were unable to retrieve any forensic evidence directly linking him to the crime, let alone find the red Daewoo, and prosecution lawyers initially ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge him with Milly's murder.

Time has done nothing to make Sally Dowler's pain any easier to bear. She has carried it from the moment she realised her daughter was missing, for the six months it took to find her skeletal remains, and for the nine years it took to bring Milly's killer to justice.

Then it emerged that Milly – a 13-year-old making the difficult transition from childhood to adolescence – suffered such self-loathing and inner anguish that she once considered suicide.

The strain drove Mrs Dowler to the brink of insanity, she admitted. Emotionally wrecked by the trauma and tormented by visions of her daughter, she had a nervous breakdown.

She still does not know exactly what happened to Milly, how she died, whether she suffered or was sexually assaulted, or how her last moments were spent.

Yesterday the 51-year-old teacher fled from court in floods of tears as the monster who murdered her daughter was sent back to prison – still refusing to tell what happened that day in March 2002.

More here

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