Girl 'in tears after abduction bid'

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The Independent Online

A student told a court today that she was left scared and crying after a man said to be convicted killer Levi Bellfield offered her a lift in his car.

Rachel Cowles was 11 when she was walking home from school and the red car pulled up beside her in March 2002.

The prosecution at the Old Bailey alleges that Bellfield drove off when he saw a police car and went on to murder Milly Dowler, 13, the next day.

Bellfield, 42, denies abducting and murdering Milly and attempting to kidnap Rachel.

Miss Cowles, now 21, recalled that she went home after the incident in Upper Halliford Road, Shepperton, Surrey, and her mother rang the police.

She said: "I felt scared as I suddenly realised the enormity of what just happened."

She had burst into tears as she spoke to a policeman on the telephone, she added.

Miss Cowles told the court she had been walking along on her own when a red car pulled up beside her with its window open.

She said: "I remember seeing magazines strewn across the floor of the front passenger seat, about 20 of them.

"There were two baby seats. They were like booster seats. One was green and blue fabric and one was pink fabric."

The engine was running and the driver had leaned over to speak to her.

"I saw him from the side and then he turned his face round to me," she added.

"He was white. My impression was that he was in his 30s to 40s. He was skin-headed or bald.

"His head was rather chubby. He had a gold hoop earring in his left ear.

"I remember him saying 'Hello. I have just moved in next door. Would you like a lift home?'

"I said 'no thank you. It's all right'." A police car was driving in the opposite direction and the car drove off.

Asked if she had been comfortable with the man making that offer to her, she replied: "No."

She had felt confused and decided to go home "to see if I could see his car and if he was telling the truth".

But when she got there and looked around, there was no car and that was when she became scared.

She agreed that she had told the police on the phone that she could not describe the man.

Police had not taken a statement from her until three years later when her mother Diana wrote to the chief constable after watching a police appeal in 2005 on GMTV for a red car, and suggesting possible links with Milly's murder.

The court was told that Miss Cowles failed to pick Bellfield out of a later identity parade.

Mrs Cowles denied that she or her daughter had been "prompted or influenced" by the report.

"No, I had already asked her what sort of car it was," she said.

But she agreed that she had told police on an earlier occasion that the man was balding and had a beard.

The mother and daughter were the first witnesses in the trial.

Milly Dowler disappeared "in the blink of an eye" after leaving Walton-on-Thames station, Surrey, and beginning her walk home along Station Avenue.

The prosecution says Bellfield was living yards away and murdered Milly in his flat before dumping the body.

Her remains were found six months later in woods 25 miles away.

The former wheelclamper and bouncer was convicted in 2008 of murdering Marsha McDonnell, 19, Amelie Delagrange, 22, and attempting to murder Kate Sheedy, 18.

The trial was adjourned to Monday.