Milly’s body is found in woods
THE family of the missing schoolgirl Amanda Dowler were told last night that their daughter was dead, six months after she went missing.
A murder inquiry was started after Hampshire Police confirmed forensic tests on human remains found in remote woodland were those of the missing 13-year-old.
It emerged last night that Amanda, known as Milly, had most likely been murdered and buried shortly after her abduction from a railway station near her Surrey home, on 21 March.
Last night, Bob and Sally Dowler, the youngster’s parents, and her sister, Gemma, 16, were with relatives after police liaison officers broke the news to them at their home in the quiet Surrey village of Walton-on-Thames.
The youngster’s remains were discovered late on Wednesday afternoon by an elderly London couple picking mushrooms in woodland near Fleet, in Hampshire - 25 miles from the Dowler home. The identification of the remains was made yesterday afternoon by a Home Office pathologist using dental records from a skull found at the site.
Mr and Mrs Dowler were due to appear on television tonight in a documentary commissioned to mark the six-month period since their daughter disappeared.
Yesterday, detectives leading the case vowed to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for Milly’s killer.
Detective Chief Superintendent Craig Denholm, the Surrey police officer leading the inquiry, said: "Our worst fears have been confirmed and the search for Milly Dowler has changed from a missing person inquiry into a murder investigation. My team and I remain commit-ted, as we always have been, to finding what exactly happened to Milly."
From day one, the investigation has struggled under the weight of public pressure and a series of apparent failings by the detectives leading the inquiry.
For six months, the Surrey force has had nothing to go on - no body, no crime scene and no witnesses - and, just last week, the force released grainy CCTV pictures of Milly’s last moments in a desperate bid to shed light on the case.
The footage, enhanced by the FBI, showed a figure standing next to a stationary dark saloon car with a distinctive spoiler near Walton-on-Thames railway station, apparently talking to someone inside for about a minute.
Glyn Willoughby, the principal of Heathside School, Weybridge, where Milly was in year nine, last night paid tribute to "a special, happy and fun-loving girl who gave her friendship and support to so many others".
The family of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne offered their "heartfelt sympathies".
Parents' slim hopes destroyed by news
AS THE news emerged that the discarded remains in a remote corner of Hampshire belonged to their daughter, Sally and Bob Dowler sat clutching each other’s hands in the silence of their own front room, surrounded by the framed pictures of a once perfect family life.
For the couple, the setting may have seemed terribly apt.
It was the last place they had seen their youngest child Amanda alive, the last place they had seen her smile as she headed to school on a bright spring morning six months ago today.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Sally Dowler had finally spoken publicly of her long-held belief that 13-year-old Amanda, known as Milly, had been abducted and murdered.
When Milly first disappeared from her home in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey on 21 March, the Dowlers’ unswerving belief that their daughter was still alive seemed apparent as they issued plea after plea to Milly’s abductor, begging them to return the teenager to her family.
In the early days of the investigation, as the first images of their daughter emerged, the public quickly became fixated with the fate of the exuberant and happy teenager who seemed so much older than her 13 years. To a nation which watched events unfold with morbid anticipation, the Dowlers’ heartfelt pleas became a constant reminder of a family’s determination and above all hope that things would somehow turn out alright.
But as the days, weeks and finally months ebbed away, the family’s resolve faded as the police investigation into the teenager’s disappearance continued to falter.
During the early stages of the inquiry, the devastated couple and their older daughter Gemma, 16, appeared before the cameras, often breaking down in tears, as they begged for news of their precious Milly.
In one appeal, Mrs Dowler said: "We just desperately hope she is alive - it’s the only thing that keeps us going, to think that she’s out there and that we’re going to get her back."
But from the start, and by their own admission, Surrey Police continued to draw a blank in the case and the largest missing persons investigation in their history quickly came under severe scrutiny.
On at least half-a-dozen occasions throughout the summer, Surrey Police informed the Dowlers of a body being found and to prepare for the worst, only for the remains to be those of someone else.
After three months, as the investigation continued to struggle, it emerged that the police had failed to turn up a single lead in the case, prompting a decision to remove Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Gibson, the Scottish detective in charge of the inquiry, from his duties.
The move came as allegations surfaced that the team of officers had taken more than a month to carry out a detailed forensic examination of Milly’s clothing.
Surrey Police also failed to treat Milly’s disappearance as a potential murder inquiry from the outset, instead waiting weeks to examine her computer, carry out forensic searches of her bedroom and check her diary. In the early days of the inquiry the force also issued conflicting statements about whether it was thought Milly had been abducted, had run off with an older man or been murdered.
In the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty the Dowlers fought to maintain their hope and dignity even when an independent review into the investigation branded the Surrey inquiry "chaotic and rudderless".
The accusations forced Surrey Police to issue a denial with the full backing of the Dowlers, stating: "It is an extremely unusual incident for a girl to go missing without a single clue or lead to help the investigation team. Regardless of how the investigation is technically classified, the same meticulous, painstaking and thorough approach would have been taken."
Four months into the investigation, the Milly Dowler case appeared to disappear from the public eye amid the media frenzy surrounding the abduction and murder of Soham girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
In the end, Surrey Police were given the break they so desperately needed when a London couple stumbled upon Milly’s remains in a lonely wood 25 miles from the railway station where she disappeared.
This week, speaking in an interview to mark six months since her daughter disappeared, Sally Dowler claimed the torment of uncertainty was the hardest thing to take.
She said: "The not knowing is just awful because there is still that element of doubt. Has someone taken her, but is she still alive? As unlikely as you know that is, you can’t help thinking, ‘Oh please, let that be the case’. I think in the beginning my brain went into overload and I honestly felt in complete fear of losing my mind. I couldn’t cope because there was no answer.
"Right now if you asked me, ‘What do you think happened?’ I’d say she has been murdered. I haven’t had that absolute feeling that it’s happened at a precise minute. I haven’t really gone beyond thinking she’s been abducted and she’s dead. What’s happened in between is a gap - I can’t bring myself to think about that bit. Until we find out for sure what’s happened, it’s too awful to contemplate."
In the interview planned for tonight, Mrs Dowler adds that sometimes she sits alone replaying a video of her daughter taken only three days before she disappeared.
She said: "I play a video I have of her over and over again and I often look at the jeans she is wearing in the film and think how ghastly I once thought they were.
"They’re big baggy things and frayed at the bottom. Now I pick them up and smell them - I smell her. I hug them and think, ‘Oh where is she?’
"Milly was quite pleased with herself when we played the video back. She’d washed and done her hair and I think she thought she looked quite nice. Milly was not terribly confident. She’d need little pep talks and reassurance. You’d have to tell her she looked nice in something."
Since the day she disappeared the Dowlers have left Milly’s bedroom much as it was when she vanished.
Her teddy bear, her CDs and her saxophone are in the usual places.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east