In Depth

Why ITV’s Milly Dowler drama Manhunt has sparked fury

Former detective defends the new series over accusations the show has turned family tragedy into entertainment

The former detective who brought Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield to justice has defended the ITV series Manhunt which dramatises his capture.

Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler, 13, was murdered in 2002 and the programme’s makers have come under fire for exploiting her real-life family tragedy for dramatic purposes.

Manhunt also focuses on how the murder of 22-year-old French national, Amelie Delagrange, on Twickenham Green in 2004 was eventually linked to the murders of 19-year-old Marsha McDonnell in 2003, and the 2002 abduction and murder of Dowler in Walton-on-Thames.

The production team was criticised for filming the new series at the exact spot where Dowler vanished on the 16th anniversary of her murder last year.

One local told the Sunday Mirror: “Milly’s murder happened a long time ago and people are reluctant to be bringing it up again. Why film it here at all? It’s raking up the past.”

Jean Taylor, of the support group Families Fighting for Justice, added: “It is already hard enough for the family without this. It will be horrific for Milly’s family, reliving the agony of what happened.”

The first and second episodes, aired on Sunday and Monday, were received well by critics, although The Independent said at times it felt like an “exploitative theme-park ride” and some tweeters said they feared it would leave Bellfield “gloating in his cell”.

But former Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, who caught Bellfield and whose memoirs inspired the three-part drama, told The Daily Telegraph: “I don’t understand the perpetually offended… We’ve spoken to the families, and they were quite happy with the way they we were treated by us, the things that we did and the results that were achieved.”

Sutton, who is played by Martin Clunes in the series, says he wrote to the families of the victims as soon as he knew the book might be made into a drama and none of them asked him not to make it.

“I spent four or five years of my life trying to help these people. I’m not now going to upset them,” he says.

Nevertheless, Marsha’s brother Jack, now 21, has said on Twitter: “I don’t understand why this programme needed to be made. People might be curious about the story, but I don’t think it needs to be re-told. It was a very difficult period for all involved and we don’t like dwelling on it. We want to move past it, so we are consciously ignoring the show.”

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