Milly Dowler's mother sobs in witness box

Milly Dowler's mother collapsed in tears today after being questioned about her daughter's last few days.

When she finished her evidence, Sally Dowler was helped from the witness box by an usher into the arms of her husband Bob.

Sobbing, Mrs Dowler had to be helped from the courtroom at the Old Bailey by Mr Dowler and a woman police officer.

As she went through the door, she called out "Oh..." but the rest of her cry was inaudible.

It was the second day of emotional turmoil for the Dowler family.

Yesterday, Mr Dowler, 59, was reduced to tears after admitting in cross-examination that he had initially been suspected by police when Milly disappeared.

Mrs Dowler, 51, who had been a teacher at 13-year-old Milly's school in Weybridge, Surrey, was first reduced to tears today as she denied a defence suggestion that her older daughter Gemma, had been the favourite child.

Levi Bellfield, 42, denies abducting and murdering Milly and attempting to kidnap Rachel Cowles, aged 11, in March 2002.

Milly 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. She was naked but her cause of death could not be determined.

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

During the hour in which Mrs Dowler gave evidence, she relived the joy of a family holiday to Mexico and Cuba in the New Year.

"It was fantastic, I am so glad we had it," she said in a rare moment of genuine joy.

The week she last saw Milly had been busy but not stressful. Milly had been with her uncle at a fun run at the weekend and was looking forward to going to a Pop Idol concert.

She had been anxious about school exams, there had been an issue about bullying but she had not been depressed.

Asked about poems and a "goodbye" letter found hidden in a washing box in Milly's room after she vanished, Mrs Dowler said she had not seen them before.

As a teacher, she thought they were not unusual. Girls of that age often wrote similar things in their diaries.

Asked if she had any reason to believe Milly was suicidal or was thinking of running away, Mrs Dowler said: "No, we were a happy family."

Jeffrey Samuels, QC, defending at the Old Bailey, asked if the letters suggested that the Dowlers favoured Gemma, then 16, and paid her more attention, and Mrs Dowler broke down.

She sobbed until she regained her composure and replied: "I was not aware of that. I was shown the note and it was not true. She never said that to me."

Mrs Dowler agreed that after Milly discovered her father's fetish pornography under a drawer, she had taken her aside and told her "It doesn't mean daddy doesn't love mummy".

Asked about the effect on Milly, Mrs Dowler said: "I was shocked to find them there as well. She was upset.

"I shouted at him and we had an argument and he said he would remove them."

Mrs Dowler, who was wearing a white blouse and a black and white cardigan, said there had been no change in Milly.

She was reminded that she told police that she had noticed "a slight change for a while and after a time things went back to normal".

She told the court she was not sure when the incident had been - a few months before or the previous summer.

She added: "It was 10 years ago. It was really hard to recall it.

"Over the space of 10 years, I had a nervous breakdown and it is very difficult for me to recall it.

"If she had any problems, she would have come and talked to me about them. I think we had a good relationship."

Mrs Dowler agreed that the picture which emerged from the verse painted a picture of Milly which she did not recognise.

Mrs Dowler said: "I would not describe her as a dark and depressing person.

"There had been issues at school and there had been some issues of bullying. She found that upsetting."

In the last week, Mrs Dowler agreed she had been tired and had turned down requests from Milly to talk about her school work and to go for a drive.

But the day Milly disappeared had been a normal school day in which she drove the girls to school.

Milly had made her way home while she and Gemma stayed behind at school, before driving through Station Avenue, on their way home.

After Milly had not turned up, Mrs Dowler had driven herself crazy trying to remember everything which happened.

A few days later, after being up all night, she had telephoned her police liaison officer to beg for the third time to be hypnotised in case she had left anything out.

She thought she had driven past Milly standing with a group of boys near Station Avenue - but was not sure if it was on the fateful day.

"I was thinking over and over again, trying to remember the minutest detail," she said.

"I was driving myself mad. I can remember saying I need to be hypnotised in order to recall something.

"I didn't know if it was that afternoon. I had got so confused. I was so desperate."

The trial was adjourned early and the jury was told that tomorrow the statement of Gemma Dowler, now, 25, would be read to the court.

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