The nightmare ordeal of murdered Milly Dowler’s parents
As their daughter's "spineless and gutless" killer was given an unprecedented second whole-life jail term in London, the parents of the 13-year-old, who was snatched from the street on her way home in March 2002, said they felt as though they had been "put on trial" at the Old Bailey. They said the trial had been a "horrifying ordeal" for the family.
Milly's mother Sally welcomed the conviction of Levi Bellfield for her murder but said the trial had been a "truly awful experience" for her family.
Gemma Dowler, Milly's sister, 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."
The three members of the Dowler family spoke on the steps of the Old Bailey following the completion of the case against Levi Bellfield, who will spend the rest of his life behind bars for abducting and killing the 13 year-old.
Bob and Sally Dowler were subjected to harsh questioning by Bellfield’s barrister Jeffrey Samuels QC.
Mr Dowler had to refute the suggestion that his daughter had run away from home because she was uncomfortable around her father, having discovered pornography magazines in the family home.
He also had to tell the court how he kept bondage equipment – a rubber hood and ball – in the family attic.
Mrs Dowler had to be helped from the dock in tears after a punishing cross-examination during which she had to deny that her older daughter Gemma was her “favourite”.
Gemma said: “The way my parents were treated can only be described as mental torture. Have they not suffered enough.”
Police have apologised to the family of Milly Dowler for a series of mistakes that let murderer Levi Bellfield slip through their net.
Surrey chief constable Mark Rowley met Milly's parents to say sorry for not recognising significant leads.
Bellfield, who had been living 50 yards from where Milly disappeared, went undetected until he was caught by neighbouring Metropolitan Police two years later.
But by then he had killed Marsha McDonnell, 19, and Amelie Delagrange, 22, and had attempted to kill Kate Sheedy, 18.
Surrey Police also contacted the families of those victims and some have agreed to meet officers.
Police making 3,500 house-to-house inquiries in the area where Milly vanished knocked on Bellfield's door 11 times after he left, but did not contact the letting agent.
Mr Dowler said the trial had been a "truly mentally scarring experience on an unimaginable scale".
Both parents broke down while giving evidence when the defence probed into their lives and suggested Milly may have been running away because she was unhappy.
Mr and Mrs Dowler also wept as a defence lawyer read out a heart-rending secret letter to them signed "your little disappointment".
Outside court Mr Dowler said: "We are pleased that a guilty verdict has been delivered by the jury and that Levi Bellfield has been convicted of the murder of our daughter.
"However, we do not see this as true justice for Milly, merely a criminal conviction.
"My family has had to pay too high a price for this conviction.
"The pain and agony that we have endured as a family since the 21st March 2002, has been compounded by the devastating effects of this trial.
"The trial has been a truly mentally scarring experience on an unimaginable scale.
"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."