Amanda Jane Dowler better known to friends and family as Mily Dowler was a 13 years old girl from Surrey in England.
On 21 March 2002, Amanda Jane "Milly" Dowler, a 13-year-old English schoolgirl, was reported missing by her parents after failing to return home from school and not being seen since walking along Station Avenue in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, that afternoon.
The murder investigation, the largest in the history of Surrey Police, was frustrating and troubling. Thousands of house-to-house enquiries were made, almost 6,000 statements taken, and dozens of registered sex offenders living within a five-mile radius of Walton-on-Thames were interviewed. The Dowler family had to deal with the glare of suspicion, with the BBC later reporting that, ‘in the early days of the investigation, Milly’s father Bob Dowler became a suspect in ‘all but name’’.
Adding to the family’s heartache was a letter sent to them by a man claiming to be Milly’s murderer. This turned out to have been written by a convicted paedophile, Paul Hughes, who’d dispatched the disturbing, taunting letter from his jail cell.
It wasn’t until 2008 that the real, tangible turning point came in the investigation. In February of that year, a 39-year-old man named Levi Bellfield was found guilty of murdering two young women, Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delangrange. They had been bludgeoned to death while out in public. Bellfield was also found guilty of attempting to murder another woman, Kate Sheedy, by ramming into her in his car. Almost immediately after being convicted for these crimes, Bellfield was named as a chief suspect in the Milly Dowler case. There was particular interest in tying him to a red Daewoo Nexia which CCTV cameras had photographed around the time and place of Milly’s disappearance.
On 23 June 2011, Levi Bellfield, who was already serving three life sentences for the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amélie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, was found guilty of abducting and murdering Dowler and sentenced to an additional whole-life tariff. On 27 January 2016, Surrey Police announced that Bellfield had admitted to abducting, abusing and killing Dowler.
Following their daughter's death, Dowler's parents established a charity called Milly's Fund to "promote public safety, and in particular the safety of the children and young people." The case generated debate over the treatment of victims and witnesses in court, after Dowler's family criticised the way they were cross-examined during Bellfield's trial.
Dowler's murder played a significant role in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. In 2011, reports said the News of the World journalists had accessed Dowler's voicemail after she was reported missing, giving her parents false hope she was still alive. The resulting outcry from the British public contributed to the closure of the newspaper and led to a range of investigations and inquiries into phone hacking and media ethics in British media.