Milly Dowler trial 'cruel' to her grieving parents

The treatment of Milly Dowler's family during her killer's trial shocked a top policeman. Was the defence lawyer out of order – or just doing his job?

When 13-year-old Milly Dowler's body was found six months after her disappearance in 2002, her family hoped their emotional scars could begin to heal.

But then came the trial of her killer. They describe the experience as a 'horrifying ordeal' and blame the defence lawyer, Jeffrey Samuels QC.

Levi Bellfield, already jailed for two other murders, was last week found guilty of the murder of Milly. But it was the tactics of Bellfield's defence team that continue to make the news. Even Mark Rowley, Chief Constable for Surrey Police, was 'shocked.'

Mr Samuels defended his client by seeking to undermine the family. Both parents broke down while giving evidence when the defence suggested Milly might have been running away because she was unhappy.

Mr and Mrs Dowler wept as Mr Samuels read out a heart-rending secret letter to them from Milly, which claimed her sister Gemma was their favourite. It was signed 'your little disappointment'. They also had to endure questions about Milly's discovery of 'extreme pornographic magazines' belonging to Mr Dowler.

The grieving family arrived expecting Bellfield to be on trial but left feeling they were. Gemma said the day her parents were questioned in court was the 'worst day of my life' and Mr Dowler felt they'd paid too high a price for the conviction:

'The questioning of my wife was particularly cruel and inhuman, resulting in her collapsing after leaving the stand. We despair of a justice system which is so loaded in favour of the perpetrator of the crime.'

Will anything change? Roger Coe-Salazar from the Crown Prosecution Service admits that nothing can prepare people for the rigours of cross-examination in court. But he said that while prosecutors objected to some questions, the defendant must always be able to 'advance his defence before a jury'.

Mark Rowley contrasted the Dowlers' treatment with celebrities who are able to take out super-injunctions to keep things private. 'They make money out of celebrity,' he said, 'but here is someone who doesn't want celebrity, whose daughter has been killed but is being vilified and humiliated.'

A fair trial?

All agree the accused must get a fair trial but many say the victims should get a fair trial as well.

But is it that easy? A police spokesman said that most murders are committed by family or those known to the victim, so any investigation would start there – particularly as unsettling evidence was discovered in the Dowlers' home. In publicising this evidence, Jeffrey Samuels was just doing his job.

You Decide

  1. Did Mr Samuels (the defence lawyer) do anything wrong?
  2. 'This country is too nice to the guilty.' Do you agree?


  1. Create your own court. On trial is Jeffrey Samuels QC. The proposition is: 'Jeffrey Samuels was too cruel.' Two people should prosecute Mr Samuels and two people should defend him.
  2. Research the role of the defence lawyer. (See 'Become an Expert') Write a short piece called: 'Defence lawyers: do we have the right rules of conduct?'

Some People Say...

“It is better that a grieving family should suffer through tough questions than that an innocent man should end up in jail.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why did the case take nine years to come to trial?
Police admit they missed crucial leads when hunting for the killer and then the trail went cold. The family had a long wait before the trial.
What is the role of a defence lawyer?
Their job is to look after the interests of the accused who is called the 'defendant'; to defend them vigorously using the law to cast doubt on the prosecution's case.
But what if they are guilty?
It's up to the prosecutor to convince a jury 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that the defendant is guilty.
The defence doesn't have to prove their client's innocence?
No, because the law says a person is innocent until proved guilty. But if there's evidence that can help a client, it is up to the defence to make this evidence known.

Word Watch

Queen's Counsel, a title for top lawyers declared to be 'learned in the law'.
Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS, is the Government Department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.
The lawyer who is there to prove the guilt of the defendant.


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