‘New vic­tims of Levi Bell­field have been email­ing me’

In the wake of a TV drama about killer Levi Bell­field, the man who caught him tells Eleanor Steafel that it’s far from case closed

The Sunday Telegraph - - Features & Arts -

Last Sun­day night, fol­low­ing the first episode of Man­hunt

– the three-part ITV drama about the pur­suit of the no­to­ri­ous se­rial killer Levi Bell­field – emails be­gan drop­ping into Colin Sut­ton’s in­box. They were from women who had car­ried with them a dark, painful se­cret for more than 15 years. Women who had sur­vived bru­tal as­saults by a man who, they would later learn, had raped count­less oth­ers and mur­dered three young women in cold blood. Women who had kept quiet about their or­deals, only to suf­fer guilt from know­ing that oth­ers were at­tacked sub­se­quently.

Some of them wanted help and ad­vice, oth­ers wanted to ex­pel the mem­ory of what had been done to them. For Mr Sut­ton, the for­mer de­tec­tive chief in­spec­tor who caught Bell­field in 2007, this was par for the course. The killer might have been be­hind bars for 11 years now, serv­ing an un­breach­able life sen­tence, but the sto­ries of the women he at­tacked never seem to cease.

“The peo­ple who are com­ing for­ward now, they’ve been car­ry­ing around what hap­pened to them. And it’s not just the per­sonal trauma of phys­i­cally what hap­pened to them,” he says. Many of those who have con­tacted him talk of blam­ing them­selves for the women who be­came his vic­tims after them.

After all these years, it breaks Mr Sut­ton’s heart to get mes­sages from women who be­lieve they were as­saulted by Bell­field, but whose sto­ries have never been heard. “There was one lady last year who had re­ported to Sur­rey Po­lice in 2001 that Bell­field had fol­lowed her into her flat and raped her. She re­ported it to po­lice and was just so mor­ti­fied by the re­sponse – marked po­lice cars, and in front of her neigh­bours – she thought, ‘I can’t take this’, and with­drew her state­ment.

“In those days, if you said to po­lice ‘I don’t want you to do this any more’, they’d say: ‘OK, that’s enough.’ So she’s car­ried that around for 15 or more years. I was able to put her back in touch with Sur­rey Po­lice. She ap­pre­ci­ated that there wasn’t go­ing to be a pros­e­cu­tion, that was not how it was go­ing to end, but what it did was give her ac­cess to the cri­sis peo­ple and other coun­selling and ad­vice. I think it was kind of a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence just be­ing able to talk to some­body.”

One of the “half a dozen” women who have con­tacted Mr Sut­ton in re­cent days said that just writ­ing it down and press­ing “send” had been enough for her to fi­nally let go of what hap­pened. “[She wrote] me reams about what hap­pened to her in great de­tail,” he tells me. “At the end of it, she said: ‘I’m in tears now, my part­ner is com­fort­ing me, but I’m so happy that I’ve been able to tell some­one at last. It’s all the ther­apy I need. I can move on now.’”

We meet in a café near the BBC’s cen­tral London of­fices, where Mr Sut­ton is do­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view later. It has been a whirl­wind week for him and he seems both ex­hausted and elated – it’s never easy, he says, go­ing over it all again. But the thought that the TV se­ries has had enough of an im­pact that more women now feel able to come for­ward with their sto­ries, is some­thing to be cel­e­brated.

A tow­er­ing fig­ure with a kind face and calm, friendly man­ner, it’s hard to be­lieve he is re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing down two of the most no­to­ri­ous crim­i­nals in his­tory. Mr Sut­ton also put an end to the 17-year reign of ter­ror of the se­rial rapist known as “The Night­stalker”: Del­roy Grant now re­sides in Bel­marsh Prison, while Bell­field is in HMP Fran­k­land, County Durham, home to some of the most dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals in the UK. Both are likely to die be­hind bars. And yet, for the peo­ple they at­tacked, and the po­lice­men and women who brought them to jus­tice, the pur­suit of truth and vin­di­ca­tion never ceases.

“The ter­rain has changed,” says Mr Sut­ton, “the cul­ture and times have changed. His­toric sex abuse al­le­ga­tions are be­ing much more se­ri­ously in­ves­ti­gated. I think the will and the abil­ity to do some­thing about it is there now, and it’s dif­fer­ent to how it was 10 or 11 years ago.”

In 2007, when Bell­field was charged with the mur­ders of Mar­sha McDon­nell and Amélie De­la­grange, and the at­tempted mur­der of Kate Sheedy (he was later con­victed of the mur­der of Milly Dowler), Mr Sut­ton had a fur­ther 20 al­le­ga­tions of rape and sex­ual as­sault that the CPS could have added to the list of charges against him. But when it was clear he would be con­victed with a life sen­tence, it was de­cided not to pros­e­cute fur­ther.

“I could see both sides,” he says. “You’re go­ing to have to find some­thing pretty big, such as a mur­der or child abuse, that would con­vince the CPS to say it’s in the pub­lic in­ter­est to spend pub­lic money on pros­e­cut­ing this man who is in prison for­ever any­way.”

At the time, the women who had sur­vived at­tacks by Bell­field un­der­stood the decision not to pros­e­cute their as­saults. Mr Sut­ton’s team in­stilled in them a cul­ture of “your jus­tice is my jus­tice”.

“It meant that when he was found guilty, we had half a dozen of these non-charged vic­tims in court to see him go down. The peo­ple who are com­ing for­ward now never had that sup­port. They’ve been car­ry­ing what hap­pened to them.”

It’s why Mr Sut­ton is adamant that any woman who hasn’t yet ben­e­fited from po­lice sup­port should get it now. But an­other, ar­guably more press­ing, ar­gu­ment for more women to come for­ward has emerged in the past few days. It has been al­leged that Bell­field was part of a child-groom­ing gang, six of whom are not serv­ing life sen­tences and who, ac­cord­ing to a for­mer child ex­ploita­tion man­ager who dealt with the case, “pose a se­ri­ous threat to chil­dren”.

A new re­port links Bell­field with the men, say­ing they op­er­ated in a sim­i­lar pat­tern to the Rother­ham child abuse gang. The word “gang”, Mr Sut­ton says, is cru­cial: “That means there are peo­ple con­nected to it who aren’t yet in prison for life, who are po­ten­tially still com­mit­ting of­fences, po­ten­tially still abus­ing chil­dren or women, or both.”

Could Bell­field fea­si­bly still be in touch with these men, if in­deed he was part of the child groom­ing ring? “Oh God, yeah,” he says. “Con­tact from prison is easy.”

Bell­field will, some have al­leged, be rev­el­ling in the at­ten­tion that

Man­hunt has gen­er­ated. “Maybe,” says Mr Sut­ton. “But if we hadn’t have done [the show], he’d have found a way to [get back in the news] him­self. He al­ways has done. He’s not of­ten not in the news, that man.”

I ask Mr Sut­ton he ever wishes he could turn his back on all this. Most of the time he lives a quiet life in Suf­folk with his wife. But he never minds be­ing pulled back into the Bell­field case. “If the phone rings and some­one says ‘Can you help us’, I’ll do it,” he says. “It’s not my job any more, but it’s the right thing to do.”

‘If the phone rings and some­one says can you help, I’ll do it’

Stead­fast: for­mer Det Chief Insp Colin Sut­ton, above, was re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing Levi Bell­field, the killer of Milly Dowler, left, and two other women to jus­tice

Threat: Levi Bell­field, right, was found guilty of mur­der­ing Amélie De­la­grange, above left, and Mar­sha McDon­nell, above right, and sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment in 2008

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