Saturday 18 November 2017

Last Night's TV: Taken - The Milly Dowler Story

Levi Bellfield is accused of murdering schoolgirl Milly Dowler nine years ago
Levi Bellfield is accused of murdering schoolgirl Milly Dowler nine years ago

David Lawlor

You hear about them from time to time ... young girls who go missing, never to be seen again. You read about them in your newspaper or watch an appeal on tv as you lie on the sofa sipping a glass of wine or munching popcorn.

They are the two-week wonders – the victims who’s names echo in the back of your head for a while but who never quite get to the forefront because you have your own life to lead and other than a ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ moment you just don’t spare the time to care in the way you should.

Taken: The MIlly Dowler Story was a Crimewatch Special which hammered home the reality behind those headlines. Milly was just 13 when she went missing on her way home from school in Surrey in March, 2002.

She was a ‘beautiful, fantastic musician, a people person, who lit a room up’, said one friend.

Her disappearance captured the public’s attention, for a while. She was pretty with a lovely smile and the pieces of footage of her released to the media showed a normal teenager, lazing on her bed, opening presents and playfully ironing her clothes

There was other footage, too, of her at the train station and leaving school the day she died...footage that must be seared in the memories of her parents, Bob and Sally, and her big sister, Gemma.

Finally, there was the footage of the man who took her life - Levi Bellfield, a hulking, sweaty fat man with dead eyes straight out of Serial Killer central casting, who was finally convicted of her murder two weeks ago.

A former girlfriend of Bellfield’s had words to describe him, too. ‘He’d punch, bite, kick, burn with cigarettes... push you downstairs. He wouldn’t allow you to leave him.’

Levi Bellfield was a beast; he already had two murders under his belt and over 30 attacks on women when he snatched young Milly from the street and took her to his apartment and killed her.

The investigating officer spoke about the years of painstaking effort to build a case against Bellfield. And there was more camera footage - images of his car trailing the buses which carried the women he attacked, and photos of his brooding, ugly face and those of his young, carefree victims.

Gemma Dowler spoke of her loss but always, unnervingly, with a half smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. She was resilient and said she wanted to now get on with her life and remember Milly as her sister and not as ‘the missing girl’.

We all move on but in the wake of this well made documentary, we should spend a lot more time thinking about the victims, their families and the dedicated police trying to track the monsters who prowl our streets while we lie on our sofas ready to uncork the wine.

Murder of a different kind was on BBC2 where three very determined women were investigating an old case – a thousand year-old case to be precise. History Cold Case is CSI meets Time Team except without the excitable Tony ‘Baldrick’ Robinson.

Our archaeological Colombos were studying bones found on the Yorkshire Moors at a place called Windy Pits. And it was the pits...standing in a marquee in the middle of frozen moorland as snow fell all around, one of the team examined the bones of four skeletons found in a 16 metre-deep pit.

There were juddering shots of x-rays, CT scans and other vain attempts to conjure up a sense of excitement but to no avail. We got CGI of the hole in which the bodies were found, then a pot-holer entered it to establish that, er, the hole was deep and dark and that inside hadn’t changed for thousands of years.

DNA on the bones was inconclusive. However some fractures and injuries indicated a violent death, but it was all terribly drawn out, including the obligatory facial reconstruction of the skull of one victim. Basically it all boiled down to ritual sacrifice where people were drugged, clubbed over the head and partially garrotted before having their throats slit and their skulls peeled. What the narrator described as ‘overkill’...a bit like the programme itself.

Tony Robinson and his team would have had it figured long before and still had time for a bit of Blackadder before the credits rolled.

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