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Last Updated: Monday, 25 February 2008, 14:25 GMT
Race against time to catch a killer
By Sarah Bell
BBC News

Levi Bellfield has been convicted of killing two women and of a further attack in south west London. But with no witnesses, no obvious motive and no forensics, how did police catch him?

CCTV of Amelie Delagrange getting on a bus
Amelie's last moments were caught on CCTV

French student Amelie Delagrange was found dying from massive head injuries on a suburban cricket pitch in August 2004.

Eighteen months earlier Marsha McDonnell had been found lying face-down in a pool of blood, just yards from her home. She had been attacked with a lump hammer.

With growing fears a serial attacker was stalking the streets, police faced a race against time to find the killer.

"All I had was a dead girl in the middle of Twickenham Green. I had her phone switched off in Walton-on-Thames 20 minutes later", said Det Ch Insp Colin Sutton, who led the murder hunt.

"We decided what we would do was search out every piece of CCTV for miles around."

'Stunning work'

Detectives tracked down and viewed 2,000 hours of footage, not knowing what they were looking for.

"It was mind-numbing work," Det Ch Insp Sutton said.

Then a white Ford Courier van was spotted. It arrived at the green moments before Amelie was killed, and CCTV from passing buses showed it stayed for eight minutes before racing off.

Identifying the van was an "amazing, stunning piece of detailed detective work", Det Ch Insp Sutton said, adding: "We had to try and find it".

There were 26,000 Ford Courier vans to eliminate. Detectives, using information from the vehicle licensing agency DVLA, began knocking on doors, as they tried to track it down.

Officers were even stationed on footbridges over the A316, the main road through Twickenham, during night shifts, hoping to spot it.

Levi Bellfield pictured in the white van
3,900 statements taken
2,000 hours of CCTV viewed
26,000 vans eliminated

But with no luck, the low point in the investigation came in November 2004.

Det Ch Insp Sutton said: "We had put all our eggs in the one basket of the van - put lots of time and money into looking for it - we were at the point of no return. It was our only lead.

"This is set against the background, all the time, of thinking, there was one in April, one in August, then how long have we got?

"It might be there's another attack before we get the chance to get him. There was real fear.

"The only thing we could do was get more scientific about finding the van."

They split the UK into areas and sent teams of detectives to find and eliminate each vehicle.

'Ex-girlfriend file'

Then the breakthrough came.

A police officer who had been stationed in a mobile police unit on Twickenham Green asked if they had followed up a statement from a woman who had suggested her ex-boyfriend, Levi Bellfield, was a potential suspect.

Bellfield was just one of 129 names in what was dubbed the "ex-girlfriend file" - names offered up by the former lovers of men in south-west London, several of whom were probably acting out of spite.

The detectives checked the names to see if any of them owned a white van.

Bellfield's name fitted - he was a wheel clamper who drove a white van.

A criminal intelligence check on Bellfield brought up his address and phone number.

It was very much my view that whatever had gone on in the past, the best chance of solving the crimes was with the most recent, with Amelie
DCI Colin Sutton

Det Ch Insp Sutton said his first thought when he was asked to investigate Amelie's murder was the similarity with the killing of Marsha, but he had to put that out of his mind.

He said: "It was very much my view that whatever had gone on in the past, the best chance of solving the crimes was with the most recent, with Amelie.

"If we got a suspect, we would go back and look at others and see if he fitted in. It turned out quite well."

It was not long before Bellfield was linked, not only to Marsha's murder, but the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, who had been deliberately run over twice.

The murder team had already spoken to the detectives investigating her case, but no connection was spotted.

But an intelligence report revealed Bellfield had owned a Toyota Previa with blacked-out windows, just like the car that had been used to run over Kate Sheedy.

Bellfield was arrested in November 2004 and detectives looked again at Marsha's case.

'No coincidence'

A review of CCTV spotted a silver Vauxhall Corsa driving right behind the 111 bus she travelled home on.

It passed as she got off and detectives believe its driver parked, then attacked her.

At the time Bellfield owned a silver Corsa, which he sold a few days after the murder.

Det Ch Insp Sutton said: "Its significance had not been spotted before.

"We had three offences, three cars which were all coming back to the same man. It stopped looking like a coincidence. One is difficult to prove, two could be a coincidence, but when you get three cars?"

Bellfield became the prime suspect and all efforts went into securing a conviction against him.

Their labour came to fruition this week, when Bellfield was convicted of killing both Marsha and Amelie, plus the attempted murder of student Ms Sheedy.

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