England

'Changes needed' to system after Milly Dowler trial

  • 25 June 2011
  • From the section England
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The man who oversaw the Milly Dowler murder investigation says the justice system will be undermined if victims are not treated sensitively in court.

Milly's parents Bob and Sally Dowler criticised the way they were cross-examined in Levi Bellfield's trial.

Surrey Police Chief Constable Mark Rowley said he was "shocked" by their treatment and called for changes.

The director of public prosecutions said the case had raised "fundamental questions" that needed answering.

Keir Starmer QC said he would examine how victims were treated. "We will be contributing to the review by the Ministry of Justice into all aspects of victim support," he said.

'Too high a price'

Bellfield was given a whole life tariff by a judge at the Old Bailey on Friday for murdering 13-year-old Milly, who was abducted from Walton-on-Thames in 2002.

Details of the Dowler family's private life were revealed during his trial, including the fact that Milly discovered pornography magazines at the family home.

During the prosecution's closing speeches, Brian Altman QC accused Bellfield of putting Milly's grieving parents on trial.

The Dowlers said they had suffered a "mentally scarring experience on an unimaginable scale" during his trial and that they paid "too high a price" for the conviction.

Chief Constable Rowley admitted police made mistakes but told the BBC's Today programme the "dignity and care that is lost in the treatment of victims and witnesses in sensitive cases is startling".

He said: "People see, sometimes, the care of victims and witnesses as a nice moral add-on. It can't be that.

"They're the lifeblood of the system and unless we treat them carefully and thoughtfully, fundamentally it undermines the system.

"I'm not saying never go personal, but if you go personal then for goodness sake, think about the dignity of the people involved."

Chief Constable Rowley also said it was a "most bizarre and distressing coincidence" that as the Dowler family were having their privacy "destroyed" footballers were being granted super-injunctions.

But John Cooper QC, a barrister, said: "If this was happening all the time it would be worrying - but it's not always as traumatic as this.

"We should not allow Levi Bellfield to hijack the criminal justice system.

"Bellfield should not contaminate what is overall a decent system."

And Mark Leech, editor of the national prisoners' newspaper ConVerse, said: "There is no need for reform because the judge already acts as a safeguard to unnecessary and intrusive questioning."

He described the chief constable's reform call as "disingenuous" and an "unnecessary knee-jerk response from a police force which is embarrassed by the fact that it didn't act sooner to arrest Bellfield".

Milly Dowler
Milly was abducted in 2002

Bellfield had also faced a charge of attempting to abduct Rachel Cowles, who is now 21, but the jury was discharged and there will be no retrial.

Defence lawyers cited an "avalanche of adverse publicity" following Bellfield's conviction on Thursday.

Chief Constable Rowley also revealed he had spoken to the family of Marsha McDonnell, 19, murdered by Bellfield 11 months after he killed Milly.

He said: "I told them there is some uncertainty about what could have been done differently at the start of the investigation.

"There's certain things I would like to have been done differently in terms of the house-to-house [inquiries] and the linking of incidents.

"I've apologised to them about that."

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