How reporting left possible victim 'robbed of justice'

The Cowles case

While Milly Dowler's family were at least able to watch in court as a judge handed down a life sentence to their daughter's killer, one woman who allegedly almost became Levi Bellfield's fourth victim will never see justice.

Rachel Cowles was walking home from school on 20 March 2002 when a man fitting Bellfield's description stopped his car and asked if she wanted a lift home.

She declined and, according to prosecutors, only managed to escape being abducted because a police car scared Bellfield away. Milly Dowler was murdered by Bellfield the following day.

As well as charging Bellfield for the murder of Milly Dowles, the Crown Prosecution Service tried to bring an attempted abduction case against the former nightclub bouncer and wheel clamper.

But yesterday, Mr Justice Wilkie discharged the jury after an "avalanche" of publicity in the tabloid press following Bellfield's conviction of murder the day before.

Speaking outside court yesterday, Miss Cowles, now 21, described how she felt "robbed".

"I am extremely hurt and angry that some of the media reporting has meant that this case has now robbed me of the chance of justice for what happened to me in 2002," she said.

"Giving evidence in court has brought back many memories, and I hope that now I can put this ordeal behind me and move on with my life. I am pleased that justice has been served for the Dowlers today and that the verdict will start to bring some closure to them."

The jury heard that Miss Cowles did not originally give police any description of the driver in 2002. Then on 17 March 2005, her mother rang police after watching a TV appeal about Milly's case.

Speaking during the trial, Miss Cowels described how she had burst into tears when she called a police officer and "realised the enormity of what just happened".

Bellfield's defence lawyer asked her if she had been influenced by media coverage of the murder of Amélie Delagrange in 2004. The court was also told that Miss Cowles failed to pick Bellfield out of a later identity parade.