UK

Levi Bellfield contempt case opens at High Court

Levi Bellfield
Image caption Levi Bellfield was convicted in 2011 of the abduction and murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler

Contempt of court action against two newspapers over their coverage of the conviction of Levi Bellfield for the murder of Milly Dowler has opened.

The Attorney General brought proceedings against the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror after Bellfield was convicted of murdering the schoolgirl.

The jury at the time was still considering a charge he had attempted to abduct an 11-year-old girl.

But it was discharged after coverage of the verdict was considered prejudicial.

Bellfield had been accused of attempting to abduct Rachel Cowles, then aged 11, the day before he snatched 13-year-old Milly in Walton, Surrey, in 2002.

Last November at the High Court, the newspapers argued their reports would not have posed "substantial risk of serious prejudice" to the jury's consideration of the outstanding charge.

'Raped disabled girl'

But the contempt proceedings were permitted by Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Mr Justice Bean, who had to decide whether Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC had an "arguable" case against the papers.

In the High Court on Wednesday, documents submitted by the Attorney General outlined the article published by the Daily Mirror on 24 June 2011 had carried the headline, "Milly murderer terror of his women" and "Six feet of pure evil".

The court heard that underneath these headlines appeared the words: "Bellfield's Ex: He said he raped a disabled girl", and "Mum of his kids: he raped me and burned me with cigarettes".

There followed an article in which Bellfield's former wife, Johanna Collings, spoke of how Bellfield told of the rape of the disabled girl.

The article had also described allegations of rape of Ms Collings along with allegations of how Bellfield raped and assaulted his former partner Emma Mills whilst she was pregnant - involving allegations of filming the attacks and attempts to strangle.

The court was then told the article had been the centre of a double page spread, which featured photographs of Ms Collings and Ms Mills.

Milly's phone hacked

Further documents submitted by the Attorney General outlined the Daily Mail's front page article - also published on 24 June.

The court heard it carried the headline, "Did Milly murderer kill Lin and Megan Russell", referring to claims of compelling evidence linking Bellfield to that case, and suggesting that Bellfield - rather than Michael Stone - might have been the killer.

The submission revealed an article on page five which referred to "six cases of drug-induced rape" - which were said to have been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, but not proceeded with.

It gave details of one incident in which Bellfield was reported to have raped a young girl in a nightclub, having administered the drug, Rohypnol.

In another section shown to the court, Bellfield was said to have assaulted a teenage girl in the toilet of nightclub.

It was on 4 July 2011 that Mark Lewis - the lawyer acting for Milly Dowler's family - revealed that the Metropolitan Police had informed him that Milly's phone had been hacked.

Four days later the prime minister announced the Leveson inquiry.

Other media organisations had covered the story of Bellfield's conviction for the abduction and murder of Milly Dowler.

The publishers of both newspapers deny contempt, and that the articles caused a substantial risk of seriously prejudicing the trial of Bellfield in relation to Rachel Cowles.

The hearing at London's High Court is set to take two days.

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