MANHUNT is the HIT drama everybody is talking about, telling the grisly true story of the murders of three young women.
Last night’s episode, the first of the three-part series, focused on the killing of French student Amélie Delagrange, and tonight’s will show DCI Colin Sutton coming face-to-face with twisted killer Bellfield for the first time.
The series is adapted from former Metropolitan police chief Colin’s book, Manhunt, which is published this Thursday.
It tells of his painstaking efforts to piece together the clues to convict Bellfield of the murders of Amélie Delagrange, Marsha McDonnell and Milly Dowler.
Here, former Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, who headed up the case and is played by Martin Clunes in the dramatisation, reveals the truth behind how they caught sick Bellfield.
His eyes were black as coal
The first time I came face to face with Levi Bellfield, I instantly noticed his eyes. They were black as coal and devoid of expression.
This moment, in the early hours of 22 November 2004, in his housing association home in Little Benty, Middlesex, was the one that would define my life and career and one we’d spent months preparing for.
He was larger than I had imagined, both taller and fatter, with a huge neck.
He seemed to have some sort of tick, blinking and tossing his head nervously every few seconds – I supposed he knew what he had done and what was likely to be coming his way.
The overall impression was of a powerful, frightening man – but this was softened instantly when he spoke in a high-pitched, squeaky voice.
We’d spent the last four months trying to find the killer of French student Amélie Delagrange, who was murdered in August 2004.
The 22-year-old had been battered about the head with a hammer and had been found dying in the middle of Twickenham Green, a very suburban and safe corner of London.
The last time anyone who knew Amélie saw her, she’d crossed the road to a bus stop to wait for any number of buses that would take her the mile or so to Twickenham Green.
Murderous assaults carried out by a stranger in the street are incredibly rare. But here I quickly realised we had another recent murder in a similar circumstance.
Marsha McDonnell, 19, had died from head wounds in Hampton on 4 February 2003, yards from her home after getting off a bus.
There were also other women in the area who had sustained massive head and face injuries. To me, there was every reason to think that they might be the work of one person, but then I had no baggage from the original Marsha investigation.
Preying on 13 year old girls at bus stops
We first connected Bellfield to a white van seen on CCTV near Amelie’s murder scene.
In May 2004, 18 year old Kate Sheedy had been deliberately run over by a different white van – but one we found was also linked to Bellfield.
He’d sold the vehicle, with its door mirror smashed, soon after the attack. We placed him under surveillance.
While looking through his intelligence file, I discovered that in 2002 he was living in Walton-on-Thames, virtually opposite the station, close to where Milly Dowler was abducted.
On the third day of us tailing Bellfield, the surveillance team reported an incident where they caught him speaking with a 13 and 14-year-old girl at a bus stop.
When police spoke to the girls, they said he’d come up to them saying: “You look like virgins. I like virgins” – but their bus arrived in time for them to make an escape.
The fact that he seemed to view bus stops as a hunting ground gave a potential link to both Amélie’s murder and Kate’s attack. He was looking ever more a good suspect and I was becoming convinced we were on to something.
It was time to arrest this man – a person who we would later learn had an appalling catalogue of domestic abuse, including several rapes, as well as previous arrests for car theft and burglary.
Bellfield had been hiding naked in his loft
However, Bellfield’s arrest initially came close to unravelling when he did not appear to be at his home.
A couple of hours were spent in fruitless searching until my colleague Detective Sergeant Norman Griffiths rang me again, saying: “Guvnor, he’s been here all along. He’s in the loft.”
He’d been hiding naked in his loft under a fibreglass insulation blanket.
I arrived at his home shortly afterwards. Bellfield had been allowed to get dressed and was scratching all over his body – or at least as much as a handcuffed man could – the effects of lying under the fibreglass.
We did though allow him a shower but not until 23 hours later.
I am so glad that in the last few minutes of freedom he would enjoy in his entire life, he was not only very uncomfortable but also utterly devoid of dignity. It is still much better than he deserved.
Colin has written a book about his experience cracking the case
He tried to hang himself with his head down the toilet
At Heathrow Police Station, Bellfield was placed in a cell.
Searching officers had failed to spot that the elasticated tracksuit bottoms he was wearing had a tape around the waistband.
Bellfield took this from the tracksuit, put that round his neck and tied it on to the fixture for the flush in an attempt to hang himself with his head down the toilet.
He inserted his large head as far into the toilet as he could, but but when he decided the attempt wasn’t going to work, began to shout.
Keeping quiet for fear of violence at the hands of Bellfield
While Bellfield was being questioned at the station, we were speaking to Emma Mills, his partner and the mother of three of his 11 children.
She recalled something significant on the night Milly Dowler went missing – he’d taken Emma’s red Daewoo car while the couple were dog sitting at a friend’s house, leaving in the early hours of the morning and not returning until 11pm.
The next day, when they drove to their flat, Emma noticed all the bedding had been removed from their bed.
His explanation was that his dog had used the bed as a toilet, and he’d thrown it in the bin.
Despite the fact there was no bedding in the bin, Emma didn’t question it – she assumed he’d soiled the bed while entertaining another woman and kept quiet for fear of violent reprisals.
At first we couldn’t link Bellfield to Milly Dowler
After his arrest, the national press suggested the attacks could be linked to the case of Milly Dowler who was abducted from Walton-on-Thames, six miles away, and killed in March 2002. We found this mystifying.
The crime was startlingly different in its nature, in the victim’s age and in the way she died. Such a link had never crossed our minds, and we felt that the speculation could only be unhelpful, so it was swiftly put down.
We had no clear picture of what happened until we found Amélie’s phone, taken by her killer, had connected itself to T Mobile’s network in Walton-on-Thames, where he was living, 20 minutes after her attack.
The murderer would have had to travel there by vehicle. Weeks later, cameras from buses had identified a small white Ford Courier van parked on Twickenham Green at the same time she’d been attacked.
And further CCTV showed it had been cruising around the area, possibly searching for a victim.
A further breakthrough came when a woman named Johanna Collings suggested her ex-partner, Levi Bellfield, could be the killer.
In one of his old coats, she’d found a knife, balaclava and copy of Cosmopolitan magazine where the blonde women inside had their faces stabbed.
Interestingly, we also found out Bellfield had also once owned a Ford Courier.
Surrey Police ignored findings for six months
I took the information Emma provided to Surrey police, who were investigating the murder of Milly Dowler under Operation Ruby.
I had given them, I thought, a good suspect to look at by highlighting Bellfield’s character, his known activities and where he lived on the day Milly was abducted.
Yet it had been six months and I had heard virtually nothing back.
After arranging a meeting with them to talk to them about Emma’s suspicions, I asked if they had any CCTV pictures of her Daewoo that day.
They showed me a picture of a car matching hers, taken about 20 minutes after Milly was known to have disappeared.
This was huge: it was the only one of that colour and the only person with keys was Bellfield – but Surrey Police had no more CCTV footage.
Another staggering fact then came to light: 11-year-old, Rachel Cowles, came forward to tell police she’d been approached by a man a mile away in Shepperton, who was driving a red hatchback, the day before Milly disappeared.
She described him as fat, with short dark hair and a squeaky voice – a description that matched Bellfield.
After Bellfield’s arrest, he could only be kept in custody due to charges of assault and rapes he’d committed against three former partners.
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It was only in March 2006, once we had all the evidence, that I could charge Bellfield with Amélie’s murder and Kate Sheedy’s attempted murder.
When I read his charges, he looked at me with hatred but I knew he realised he’d finally lost.
Extracted from Manhunt: How I Brought Serial Killer Levi Bellfield To Justice, by Colin Sutton, £8.99, John Blake