Questions raised over ordeal of murdered girl's family

The Dowler Case
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The Independent Online

The aggressive questioning by Levi Bellfield's defence barristers has prompted a fierce argument over whether enough is being done to help victims during trials while simultaneously retaining an adversarial legal system where witness testimony is thoroughly examined.

Milly Dowler's family launched a scathing attack on the judicial system as it spoke out against the trauma of being fiercely cross-examined on the witness stand.

Speaking outside the Old Bailey after Levi Bellfield's sentencing, Milly's sister Gemma told reporters how the family felt it was on trial and that watching her parents take the stand had been "the worst day in my life". "The way my parents were questioned can only be described as mental torture," she said. "The scales seem to be tipped so much towards the defendant rather than us, the family, who have suffered an almighty loss. It feels like we are the criminals."

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said Bellfield's trial "raised some fundamental questions about the treatment of victims and witnesses in the court process".

Speaking to The Independent last night, Baroness Newlove, whose husband Gary was brutally beaten to death by drunken yobs on his doorstep, called for courts to treat victims and witnesses better.

"My heart goes out to the Dowlers because, being a victim myself, I know exactly how the courts treat victims and their families almost as if they have done something wrong," she said.

Louise Casey, the Government's victims' commissioner, also came out in defence of the Dowlers. "Victims and witnesses have few rights, no real route of complaint. They are often given little information and sometimes treated as if they were an inconvenience in some legal game being played out in the court room," she said.

But Roger Coe-Salazar, the CPS chief crown prosecutor in the South-east, defended the use of thorough cross-examinations.

"The adversarial nature of our criminal trial system in this country is designed to test the evidence given by witnesses, be they for the prosecution or defence, so as to ensure safe conviction and acquittal of the innocent," he said. "We must recognise that there are some aspects of the trial, in particular in cross-examination, which no amount of general foresight can ever prepare someone for."