Milly: Portrait of a very normal - and troubled - teenager
When caught on a family video camera ironing her jeans before a Pop Idol concert, Milly Dowler seemed like any other happy teenage schoolgirl.
Unfortunately, these intimate snapshots of middle class family life did little to help the search and Milly’s body was found six months later in woodland 25 miles away from her home.
In the nine years it took to bring her killer Levi Bellfield to justice, there was no reason to question the image that had been portrayed.
On the first day of Bellfield's Old Bailey trial, his victim was described as “slim, pretty and intelligent” and “an ordinary girl who was developing into a fine young woman”.
She was bright, excelled in class and had a wide circle of friends.
Yet during the eight week case, a very different image of the bubbly, strawberry blond teenager emerged.
For Milly was deeply insecure. Insecure about her looks, about people talking about her and about being bullied at school.
Although much of her torment could be attributed to teenage angst, the letters and poems she wrote in the months leading up to her death suggested a darker, more brooding side.
In heartrending, hand written letters to her parents Bob and Sally – which were never sent – she told them how they would be better off without her.
The notes, one of which was signed off “your little disappointment Amanda”, were only discovered after her death and proved devastating for her parents to read.
One read like a suicide or farewell note, a point highlighted by Jeffrey Samuels QC, defence counsel for Bellfield.
“Dear daddy and my beautiful mummy,” it said. “By the time you find this letter I will be gone, up there or down below you.
"I have always been that way - below other people. I am sorry, you deserve a better daughter so I have left…
"You should have had an abortion or at least had me adopted, then at least I wouldn't have made your life hell as well.
"I think it would be best if you try and forget me. It's nothing you have done. I just feel I had to go.”
Poems written by Milly also referred to how her parents preferred her elder sister Gemma to her – something they emphatically and tearfully denied during their evidence in court.
Writing that her life was “s***”, the schoolgirl described how much she hated school and herself.
“I don't know what it is I do, they all just seem to hate me.
“All they do is slag me off and force everyone against me.
“I know I am pathetic and helpless and I know I'm not pretty or fit.
“But what do they all have that I haven't? Let's face it I am just totally s***...
“Maybe I should just go. Sometimes I think how life would be without me, for mum and dad to have a beautiful little girl who is something like Gemma.
“'She would be everything I am not, everything I dream to be - pretty, smart, intelligent, wanted, loved.
“But then I hit myself and wake up to reality and how bad school is going to be in the morning.
“I hate it but not nearly as much as I hate myself.”
Barely able to stand as she spoke in the witness box, Mrs Dowler said through her tears she had not known about her younger daughter’s belief that her elder sibling was somehow better than her.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” she said. “I did get shown the note about that – but it wasn’t true.”
Milly’s awkward steps towards becoming an adult were also illustrated by her choice of email user name as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her mother knew of the name and was concerned, but was told by Milly that “all my friends have got addresses like that”.
Milly’s confusion and anguish about growing up were not confined to words.
Her friend, Hannah McDonald, told how she tried to cut her wrists with a dinner knife after being bullied at Heathside School, in Weybridge while in Year Seven.
Deeply conscious about her looks, she was upset at being teased about the size of her nose and nostrils.
Although it was not a serious attempt on her life, as she did not even break the skin, Miss McDonald’s revelation did little to quell disquiet about Milly’s dark thoughts.
The revelations about Milly's inner turmoil threw a disturbing light on a seemingly happy young girl’s existence before she was brutally murdered.