Levi Bellfield: Detective haunted by moment he thought Milly Dowler evaded him
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Neil Lancaster spent 25 years with the Metropolitan Police, carrying out surveillance and undercover operations on some of the most serious and dangerous criminals in the capital.
But a 10-day stint watching serial killer Bellfield before he was arrested on suspicion of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange is the case that haunts him the most.
In late 2004, Neil was on a team with the Homicide Task Force who had to monitor Bellfield in the hope of getting evidence that could see him charged with either of the murders of Marsha or Amelie.
It was not suspected at that time that he murdered 13-year-old Milly.
Bellfield is the subject of a new five-part murder documentary series being screened Monday to Friday this week, Killer Britain ‘I thought, have we missed him?’ With Dermot Murnaghan. Neil said: “It was a hard 10 days watching this absolute animal wind his way round south and south west London. We all knew he was a potential serial killer.
“He was always on the move, occasionally there was a girlfriend in the car – which was sometimes a little worrying.
“He was a horrible man. He absolutely dripped arrogance. He was absolutely delighted with himself, he had no self awareness. “Clearly, he’s just a sociopath. He was not a man who lived a normal lifestyle. He had a wild, crazy lifestyle and was always on the edge of a row or a fight.”
The worst thing the team witnessed was when he started talking to two young teenage girls.
The team was told to keep watching, but to ensure the girls did not get in his vehicle.
It ended with an argument, with Bellfield swearing at them before leaving. Police later spoke to the girls, who said Bellfield had used sexually explicit language to them.
Neil said Bellfield, who worked as a car clamper, was so full of himself, he had no idea he was under surveillance for 10 days.
He added: “He did not expect to be followed. The level of arrogance he holds, he thought no one could get near him. He thought he was invincible, that classic psychopathic feeling of invincibility.”
On November 23, 2004, his team were told to keep watch outside Bellfield’s West Drayton home near Heathrow Airport until morning – when he would be arrested.
But after officers raided his home there was a call: “He’s not here.”
Neil said: “I thought, what have we done? Have we missed him? Did I nod off? I knew I hadn’t.”
Senior officers were furious, warning that anyone responsible would end up on traffic duties. Half an hour later, Bellfield was caught hiding naked in his loft.
His live-in girlfriend had motioned her eyes to the loft hatch ‘He imagined he was invincible’ at police. She subsequently became a prosecution witness. In February 2008, Bellfield was convicted of the 2003 killing of Marsha, 19.
The netball player and talented violinist was attacked by Bellfield and found bleeding to death from horrific head injuries in the street, yards from her home in Hampton, south-west London.
He killed French student Amelie 11 months later in a similarly horrific attack with a blunt instrument.
Bellfield received a whole life sentence for those murders. It was not until June 2011 that he got another full term for Milly’s 2002 abduction and murder.
Like many, Neil believes Bellfield may have committed other murders.
He said: “You don’t just start in the way that he did…I think it is more likely than not. It’s good to see the likes of him will never be walking the streets again.”
Neil retired from the force in 2015 to the Scottish Highlands to become a crime writer.
It was there that he created the fictional undercover detective Tom Novak, the central character in his three novels.
He said: “I’m a writer now and it really has influenced what I do and what I write.
“There have been elements of my characters, the antagonists, being psychopaths at some level or another and I can’t say that hasn’t been influenced by my experiences with Levi Bellfield – he was the worst person I encountered in 25 years of policing.”
Killer Britain With Dermot Murnaghan, Crime+Investigation channel, tomorrow, 9pm.
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