‘They don’t know me, but they feel like they know Martin’: The real detective behind ITV’s Manhunt receives new Levi Bellfield allegations
The former Met police detective whose team caught serial killer Levi Bellfield has been contacted by seven women making fresh allegations after drama Manhunt aired last week.
Retired Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton is played by Men Behaving Badly star Martin Clunes in the three-part series that aired last week.
The drama follows his team as they investigate the murder of French student Amélie Delagrange, 22, on Twickenham Green in August 2004. This led to the arrest and conviction of wheel-clamper Levi Bellfield who is currently serving life in prison.
Mr Sutton suggested that having ‘national treasure’ Martin Clunes play his character may have help prompt this fresh wave of accusations.
“I was aware of the possibility that airing the subject might prompt people to come forward because that had happened once or twice before when I had taken part in documentaries about Bellfield,” said Mr Sutton.
He added: “It’s entirely possible that since you’ve got Martin Clunes playing the role on telly and he’s well loved, then people who have been wondering whether they should say something or not, decided to get in touch.
“They don’t know me, but they feel like they know Martin. It was almost like they were reaching out to him because they think it’s safe and that he will listen to them. Whatever the motivation, if we encourage half a dozen or so people to come forward and tell us about Levi Bellfield then it’s a really positive by-product of the show.”
Bellfield was convicted in February 2008 for the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amélie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. Three years later, in June 2011, he was found guilty of the murder of Milly Dowler. He received life sentences in both cases.
Days before Manhunt hit the nation’s screens, it was revealed that the Met had launched a fresh investigation into Bellfield after a Hillingdon council report linked him with a potentially still active child-grooming gang in west London.
This means there is now ‘an imperative’ for the new accusations to be investigated, Mr Sutton said.
He added: “Because it’s now believed that he was involved with others, they have to do something about it. It’s perfectly possible that those others are not only out of prison and free to do what they like, but that there are still offending.
“There is an ongoing protection issue. Whereas if that were just Levi on his own, he can’t do that much damage from where he is and where he is going to stay. I am extremely confident they are taking this very seriously.”
“You never know what tiny piece of information – even someone saying he used to drive this car, or drink in a certain pub – could prove crucial when the officers are now looking back at these historic allegations,” he added.
The series has been praised for its lack of sensationalism and respectful tone achieved through its ‘almost mundane realism’, as Sutton puts it.
He said: “I was absolutely overjoyed with the final product. The police scenes were as accurate as its reasonably possible to make them within the constraints of making a drama.
“I think we proved that you can have a gripping crime drama that’s exciting but doesn’t need car chases and gunfights. I think it was a masterpiece, I really do. The whole thing exceeded my wildest expectations.”
While the drama has Sutton’s meticulous note-keeping to thank for its accuracy, his on-screen portrayal by Martin Clunes was remarkably faithful.
He said: “I would guess we spent about eight or nine hours in each other’s company and yet my family and friends have said that he got my mannerisms off to a tee.
“He may always be Gary from Men Behaving Badly, and I told him that, but I think he’s a far better actor than people generally give him credit for. Although some people said that when he played me, it was his Kipper the dog voice and they weren’t wrong.”
The media’s role in this case will forever be tarnished by the notorious phone hacking scandal when the News of The World was found to have hacked Milly Dowler’s phone. Despite this, Mr Sutton said that prior to this he maintained a ‘symbiotic’ relationship with the press and the team even got two new witnesses from journalists’ cooperation.
He said: “It was completely different back then. The fallout from the News of the World hacking Milly’s phone and when that became public knowledge have, of necessity perhaps, restricted the lawful and sensible exchange between police officers and journalists in a way we didn’t have to deal with then.
“However, I believe that If you’ve got people of integrity working on both sides then that relationship can be proper and useful. I had 28 one-on-one meetings with journalists and we were able to steer them, saying this is where you might want to look a bit further. They trusted me and I trusted them.”
Feature image credit: Stephen McKay (cc-by-sa/2.0)