THE MAN charged with the kidnap and murder of Milly Dowler has also been charged with the attempted abduction of a Southampton student eight years ago.

Levi Bellfield, 41, is accused of attempting to snatch Rachel Cowles, now 21, the day prior to Milly going missing.

Miss Cowles, who was 12 years old at the time, is currently a student at Southampton University.

Bellfield, a former doorman and wheelclamper, originally from West Drayton, Middlesex, will appear in custody before Staines Magistrates' Court on April 13.

The decision follows a multi-million pound police inquiry into one of Britain's best-known unsolved murders.

Amanda Dowler, known to her family as Milly, disappeared while walking home from school in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on March 21 2002.

Six months later her skeletal remains were found 30 miles away by mushroom pickers in Yateley Heath, in north Hampshire.

Her parents, Bob and Sally Dowler, thanked detectives for their ''painstaking work'' over the past eight years.

In a statement, they said: ''It's very hard to say how we feel after eight long and difficult years.

''We are extremely grateful to Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall and her investigating team for their painstaking work and support to us over the years.

Daily Echo: Click below to see a video of today's headlines in sixty seconds

"We are pleased that Levi Bellfield has been charged with abduction and murder and hope this will go some way towards providing justice for our darling Milly."

Bellfield was first interviewed over Milly's death five years ago after he was held by the Metropolitan Police.

Officials at the CPS complex casework unit began considering a huge dossier of evidence last September.

The five files of material, drawn together by Surrey Police's Operation Ruby team, include new evidence against Bellfield obtained in December 2008.

Officers believe they also have compelling circumstantial evidence which links him to the crime.

Bellfield was living with his girlfriend Emma Mills a short distance from where Milly was last seen.

A heavily-loaded red Daewoo Nexia, owned by Miss Mills, was caught on CCTV driving away from area at about the time Milly disappeared.

The distinctive car has never been recovered by police who have searched a large number of lakes and questioned a scrap dealer.

A similar car was involved in the incident the precious day in which a 12-year-old girl was offered a lift home in Shepperton.

This event is understood to be what lies behind the first charge, an allegation that Bellfield attempted to kidnap Miss Cowles.

Prosecutor Nigel Pilkington said a summons had been obtained from Staines Magistrates' Court and would soon be served on Bellfield.

He said: ''During my review of the file, I asked the police to conduct further investigations in relation to specific matters, which I considered would have an important bearing on my decision in this complex case.

''Those investigations were completed in February of this year.

''After carefully reviewing all the evidence in this case, I have now reached the decision that there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to charge Levi Bellfield with three offences.''

Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall, who led the Surrey Police inquiry, welcomed the decision.

She said: ''The investigation into the abduction and murder of Milly Dowler has been long and complex, spanning the last eight years.

''We welcome the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service today. Milly's family have been kept fully informed of all the developments.

''Our thoughts remain with Milly's family. We ask the media to respect their privacy as this continues to be an extremely difficult and traumatic time for them.''

At her family home in Shepperton, Miss Cowles, said she did not wish to comment.

Her father, John, said they had not been told of the decision by the CPS to charge Bellfield.