Detectives have decided that the convicted serial killer Levi Bellfield was lying when he made repeated sworn confessions to the kidnap, murder and burial of Elizabeth Chau, who went missing in 1999, the Guardian has learned.
The decision means the Metropolitan police will not seek a warrant to dig up the west London site where Bellfield claimed to have buried the remains of Chau, 19, a computer studies student.
Chau’s family said they were disappointed by the decision and still believed police should dig at the site.
The Met first interviewed Bellfield, 55, who is serving two whole-life sentences, in jail in May but that interview was thought not to be thorough enough. The force carried out a second interview over two days in HMP Frankland in Durham on 6 and 7 November.
It included showing him video footage of the scene in west London, now owned by Thames Water, where Bellfield claims to have buried Chau.
A spokesperson for the Met said: “Specialist detectives have taken these disclosures very seriously and examined all information made available to them. It’s right that a considerable amount of time and police resources have been dedicated to this investigation as we hoped to find Elizabeth and provide much-needed answers for her family.
“All relevant lines of enquiry have now been exhausted and the decision has been taken to close this investigation. As a result of these enquiries, a number of inconsistencies and discrepancies have been uncovered which lead us to believe the confession is false and this individual is not connected to Elizabeth’s disappearance.”
If his confession were true, it would make Chau the first of Bellfield’s victims.
Bellfield has been convicted of three murders: those of 13-year-old Milly Dowler in March 2002; 19-year-old Marsha McDonnell in February 2003; and 22-year-old Amélie Delagrange in August 2004. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy in May 2004. He is serving two whole-life tariffs.
The Guardian understands that police believe CCTV footage contradicts Bellfield’s claim to have been lying in wait for her in a vehicle near to where she was last seen, close to Ealing police station. It does not show him present, police believe.
The Chau family met Met officers on Monday morning, accompanied by the former Met detective Clive Driscoll, who cracked the unsolved Stephen Lawrence case after winning the trust of the family who had been alienated by police arrogance and bungling.
Chau’s sister Bic-Hang Chau told the Guardian: “We are shocked and disappointed and I am personally angry and frustrated with the police decision.”
Bic-Hang, who works for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the family wanted to see the evidence that police had examined. “We believe police should dig the sites identified by Bellfield. There are inconsistencies on both sides, we feel caught in the middle between Bellfield and the police.”
Her brother Minh-Vu said: “We’re not sure, I don’t think all the avenues have been exhausted. I still lack confidence in them, because they messed up the first interview.”
From the start the Chau family have been aware that Bellfield’s claims could be an attempt at manipulation rather than a genuine confession. The area identified by Bellfield in his second interview with Met detectives is the size of a football pitch, two sources with knowledge of the case say.
In the 24 years that have passed, the area that Bellfield has identified has changed, with some areas now fenced off.
Bellfield’s solicitor, Theresa Clark, said: “Because of the fences he [Bellfield] could not see the exact area where he says he buried the body.”
The Met said: “We have remained in close contact with Elizabeth’s family throughout this investigation and recently met with them, explaining how we have come to this outcome.”
The family are originally from Vietnam, and Chau was born in the UK.
The Met says that since 2013 the case has not been actively investigated, although it has issued an appeal for anyone with new information to come forward and contact what the force says is a “dedicated investigation team” on 0208 785 8267.
The last known sighting of Elizabeth Chau was just after 6pm on 16 April 1999. Police were first given details of the alleged confession, made verbally by Bellfield to a prison visitor, in October 2022. In March he made a written confession and in May he was first interviewed under criminal caution by homicide detectives.
Bellfield also claims to have carried out six other attacks on women who survived.