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'Gone in the blink of an eye' – Milly Dowler murder trial opens

Schoolgirl milly Dowler vanished "in the blink of an eye", a prosecutor told the Old Bailey yesterday.

The 13-year-old had taken a different route home that day in March 2002, having stopped off at a café with friends.

Within minutes of leaving them, she disappeared.

She was snatched in broad daylight in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, and it was not until six months later that her unclothed and badly decomposed body was found in undergrowth.

The jury heard that a 42-year-old former nightclub doorman, Levi Bellfield, who denies kidnap and murder, killed two women and attempt to kill another within two years of the day the schoolgirl disappeared.

Mr Bellfield, formerly of West Drayton, west London, was jailed for life in 2008 after killing Amelie Delagrange, 22, and Marsha McDonnell, 19, in London.

The Old Bailey also heard how he tried to murder Kate Sheedy, 18, by running her over with his car. It was after these convictions that Surrey Police started looking into links with Milly's disappearance.

The day before Milly went missing as she walked home from school, Mr Bellfield allegedly tried to kidnap 11-year-old Rachel Cowles just a few miles away, a crime he also denies. Brian Altman, QC, for the prosecution, told the jury that Rachel was approached by a man in a small red car who "tried tricking her by telling her that he had just moved in next door and asked her if she wanted a lift".

He added: "Sensibly she did not accept his offer. At this time, a police car was driven along the road, which possibly spooked the man and he drove off."

Rachel, now 21, recalled that the man appeared to be bald with a "chubby" head which she said was "sort of round and large".

Milly disappeared the next day after leaving school and taking a train with her friends. "Within moments of leaving the station, she vanished," Mr Altman said.

He described her as a "slim, pretty and intelligent" girl who was "developing into a fine young woman". He added that Mr Bellfield's partner and their two children had been away on the day Milly disappeared, but that the next day he had decided to move them with "indecent haste".

Mr Atlman said: "For six long months, the Dowler family suffered the excruciating pain of not knowing what had become of their daughter."

The trial continues.