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Milly's family marks grim anniversary

23:42 Sun Mar 18 2012
AAP

The family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler will mark the 10th anniversary of her disappearance this week.

Milly, 13, vanished while returning from school to her home in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on March 21, 2002.

The mystery gripped Britain as Surrey Police mounted a massive investigation to discover what happened to her.

But hopes she could be found alive were dashed six months later when mushroom pickers came across her decomposed body in a wood 40km away.

The case remained unsolved for many years, and Milly's family had to wait until last June before former bouncer Levi Bellfield, 43, was finally convicted of her murder.

Bellfield was already serving a whole life sentence for murdering two young women and attempting to murder a third when he was charged in March 2010 with killing Milly.

His trial at the Old Bailey last year finally revealed what had happened to the schoolgirl on that Thursday afternoon in early spring a decade ago.

Milly set off for home after finishing for the day at Heathside School in Weybridge, Surrey, where her mother taught maths.

She decided at the last minute to get off the train one stop early, at Walton-on-Thames, to share some chips with her friend Danielle Sykes at the station cafe.

After ringing her father to say she was OK and saying goodbye to Danielle, Milly walked along Station Avenue.

As she passed within metres of Bellfield's rented ground floor flat, he snatched her from the street so suddenly that she simply vanished without anybody seeing what happened.

Bellfield's red Daewoo Nexia car was seen leaving 22 minutes later. He returned in the night and drove her body to the woods where her remains were found on September 20, 2002.

The killer went on to murder Marsha McDonnell, 19, in Hampton, southwest London, in February 2003, and Amelie Delagrange, 22, in Twickenham, southwest London, in August 2004.

Bellfield also left 18-year-old Kate Sheedy for dead when he ran her down in his car after she got off a bus in Isleworth, west London, in May 2004. He was convicted of all three crimes in February 2008.

Milly's murder was not the end of the heartbreak for her family, however.

Her parents Sally and Bob were told by Scotland Yard last April, just weeks before the start of Bellfield's trial, that detectives had uncovered evidence that the News of the World hacked their daughter's mobile phone following her disappearance.

Mrs Dowler told the Leveson Inquiry in November that she and her husband were given false hope that Milly was still alive after some of the schoolgirl's voicemails were erased shortly after she went missing.

Police said in December that it is "unlikely" News of the World journalists deleted the messages, which were probably automatically removed from the mailbox.

But the storm of outrage over the hacking of the murdered schoolgirl's phone led to the closure of the Sunday tabloid last July and the setting-up of the Leveson Inquiry to look at this and other abuses by the British press.

News International, which published the News of the World, paid the Dowlers Stg2 million ($A3.00 million) to settle their civil claim over the illegal interception of Milly's voicemails, and Rupert Murdoch personally donated a further Stg1 million ($A1.50 million) to charities chosen by the family.

The Dowlers' solicitor, Mark Lewis, said they will not be making any public statements to mark Wednesday's 10th anniversary.