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Failed by the law, the police and the media

Trial has scarred us, says Dowler family / Surrey Police sorry for inquiry’s failings / Reporting blamed as second case is dropped

A second trial of Levi Bellfield collapsed amid confusion and acrimony yesterday when a judge said he was forced into the "deplorable" position of dismissing the jury after an "avalanche" of adverse publicity about the man convicted on Thursday of murdering Milly Dowler.

Mr Justice Wilkie had earlier made Bellfield the first person in British history to serve two whole-life sentences after jurors found him guilty of the 2002 murder of the schoolgirl on Thursday. But jurors had yet to decide on a second charge of the attempted kidnap of 11-year-old Rachel Cowles the day before Milly vanished.

The decision came as Surrey Police said they had apologised to the Dowler family and Cowles family for serious failings in the initial murder hunt that left Bellfield free to kill two women, 19-year-old Marsha McDonnell, in 2003, and Amélie Delagrange, 22, in 2004.

Speaking outside the court yesterday, Ms Cowles, 21, said she was "extremely hurt and angry" after being "robbed" of her chance to get justice. The judge said he will now ask the Attorney General to consider proceedings against media organisations for contempt of court after some had "pulled the trigger too early" by reporting comments attributed to at least two of Bellfield's former partners.

"This is most unfortunate and, in a sense, deplorable," he told the Old Bailey. "The only person who is going to be affected by what has happened and most affected adversely has been Rachel Cowles and her family. It is no longer possible for any jury in receipt of this volume and nature of material to give fair and proper consideration to its verdicts at this stage."

The judge added that some of the material, published about Bellfield after the verdicts, had "strayed" into allegations "of a hugely prejudicial nature", made by others, about the defendant. Jeffrey Samuels QC, defending, asked for the jury to be discharged on the remaining count, saying that since the verdicts in the Milly case there had been an "avalanche of publicity adverse to the defendant".

The decision has cast a shadow over the conclusion to a trial that saw Bellfield attempt to paint Milly as an unhappy and tormented girl who had run away after finding a porn magazine belonging to her father. Bob Dowler later became Surrey Police's lead suspect after they found bondage equipment in the attic. He was forced to reveal details of his private life.

The guilty verdict on Thursday was met with high emotion from Milly's family as they left the Old Bailey.

Milly vanished on 21 March 2002 when Bellfield lay in wait as she bought chips at a café at Walton-on-Thames rail station. Her unclothed, decomposed body was found six months later 25 miles away.

Surrey Police have apologised for a string of missed opportunities that left Bellfield free to kill Marsha McDonnell and Amélie Delagrange. He was given his first full-life sentence for those, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy in 2008. In the weeks after Milly's disappearance, officers knocked on Bellfield's door 11 times without reply. When they discovered he had moved, they failed to seek a forwarding address.

Yesterday, DCI Maria Woodall, who led the investigation that finally snared the killer, said: "While it appears highly unlikely that even a perfect initial investigation would have identified Bellfield, the chief constable of Surrey Police, Mark Rowley, has met and apologised to both the Dowler and Cowles families. Our house-to-house enquiries following Milly's disappearance, although extensive, were not exhaustive."

The Dowler family reserved their most stinging condemnation for Bellfield and the judicial system that they said had left them "in despair". Milly's father, Bob, called Bellfield "spineless and gutless" for refusing to take the stand. He described the questioning of his wife, Sally, as "cruel and inhuman", adding: "We despair of a justice system that is so loaded in favour of the perpetrator of the crime."

Mrs Dowler said: "We have felt that our family, who have already suffered so much, has been on trial as much as Bellfield. To actually see that man in court, a man capable of such a vile and inhuman crime, has been grotesque. The length the system goes to protect his human rights seems so unfair compared to what we as a family have had to endure."