A Daily Mirror reporter today described how he helped to convict the killer of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Serial killer Levi Bellfield was yesterday found guilty of murdering 13-year-old Milly in 2002, but the case may never have gone to trial were it not for the work of Mirror reporter David Collins.
The case against Bellfield – who in 2008 was found guilty of murdering Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell – had gone cold until Collins got him to admit he was at the scene of Milly’s disappearance.
Milly was last seen walking along Station Avenue in Walton on Thames at 4.08pm on 21 March, 2002, and half an hour later CCTV captured footage of a red Daewoo driving past the same spot, but it was never traced by police.
In previous police interviews Bellfield refused to comment on whether he was driving the car – but in a call to HMP Wakefield at the home of Bellfield’s brother, the killer admitted to Collins that he was driving the Daewood the day Milly disappeared.
It had taken the reporter three months to win the trust of Bellfield’s family and to get the call set up.
‘After months of my own investigative work and the police case against him having stalled, this was my chance to help provide Milly’s tormented family with the answers they had craved for almost a decade,’he wrote in today’s Mirror, adding: “I left the house and checked my tape-recorder, my hands shaking as I pressed the rewind, praying it had worked,”
On 22 April, 2009, the paper splashed with a story headlined ‘I was in the Milly CCTV car”. Two weeks later two detectives from Surrey Police went to the Mirror newsroom and took a statement from the reporter as well as copies of the interview tapes, which later formed part of the Crown Prosecution Service’s case against Bellfield.
‘There was no need for me to be called [to Bellfield’s trial] because Bellfield’s legal team never challenged the prosecution on his whereabouts the day Milly vanished,’said Collins. ‘I’d nailed that in the phone interview.”
In a comment piece the Mirror said the story showed the media can be a ‘force for good’in society.
‘Detectives are grateful for the Daily Mirror’s crucial breakthrough – our reporter’s painstaking research and determination put Bellfield in the red Daewoo at the centre of a gruesome crime.
‘Politicians criticise a free press when it publishes inconvenient truths, but nailing Bellfield is a pertinent reminder that an inquiring media, often needing to take risks, is a force for good in our society.”