Milly Dowler's uncle said today he might have come face to face with the man accused of killing the 13-year-old.
Brian Gilbertson said he had gone out to look for the schoolgirl with a torch in the early hours when she failed to arrive home from school.
The publican from Ongar, Essex, had earlier been receiving the Freedom of the City of London and had been due to have dinner with Milly's grandmother.
But when the family heard she was missing, he drove to Surrey and decided to walk the mile-long route she would have taken to walk home from Walton-on-Thames station.
The prosecution at the Old Bailey says it was while he was searching around flats where Milly was alleged to have been killed nine years ago, in Station Avenue, that he came across accused Levi Bellfield.
Mr Gilbertson said today: "I saw a person walking towards me, a male. He was approximately 5ft 11in to 6ft 1in."
Asked what his build was, he said: "Stocky, and well built."
He added: "I believed his age was between 30 to 40 years old. His hair style was shortish hair, I would estimate it to be no more than about two inches long.
"The clothing this person was wearing was very dark and unrecognisable.
"He was approaching me in a concerning fashion. I felt it was an intimidating manner. He was walking towards me very confidently with the air of someone who was going to say something, or do something, to me."
He did not do so, though.
The man was not carrying anything, but had a dog very close by.
It was not on a lead, but was walking six to eight feet from the man, and Mr Gilbertson took it that the dog belonged to the man.
"He was walking quite quickly towards me, and within 10 to 15 feet away from where we were going to pass, he veered off."
He went to a block of flats and stopped.
Mr Gilbertson said that at the time it appeared to him that it was an entrance to a block of flats.
"When I revisited it during daylight hours, it was clearly an area where there were refuse bins, and where they put all the rubbish out."
Asked by the jury to clarify timings that night, Mr Gilbertson said he left the pub in Ongar at 12.30am. He went to Milly's parents' house at 1.30am, started his searches at 3am, saw the man at about 4am, and returned to Milly's parents' house at 5.45am.
He agreed in cross-examination that he was searching for a maximum of two and three quarter hours, compared with an earlier suggestion of five and a half hours.
He said: "This was a worrying time that night."
Mr Gilbertson was asked about his re-acquaintanceship with Milly's family in the months before Milly's disappearance.
He agreed he had a "strong bond" with her and that she often took the lead in confiding matters to him.
He agreed he had found that "quite staggering and quite flattering" and that on one occasion he had spent two hours passing on the things she told him to his wife.
He said: "My upbringing is different from other people's. I come from a quietish family. Probably we don't speak so openly in that affectionate way."
Earlier, Katherine Laynes, 24, told how she was the last person to see Milly alive.
Miss Laynes, who was 15 at the time, said she was sitting at a bus shelter when she saw Milly walking on the other side of the road.
She said: "We both made eye contact. I didn't wave or anything but I thought we both recognised each other."
Milly had gone out of sight because of a poster on the bus shelter but Miss Laynes had looked for her after she boarded her bus.
She said: "I was looking out for Milly, expecting to see her, but I didn't."
As the bus stopped at traffic lights, she looked again. "I remember it was quite weird I had not seen her. I had a look but I still didn't see her," she said.
Bellfield, 43, 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.
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 tomorrow.Reuse content