THE parents of murder victim Jenny Nicholl have backed demands for witnesses to be given more protection during trials.

Brian and Ann Nicholl have spoken out after the courtroom ordeal suffered by the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler prompted a public outcry.

Speaking ahead of the sixth anniversary of their daughter's disappearance, the Nicholls said the 2008 trial of Jenny's killer, David Hodgson, left them feeling as if they and their daughter were the accused.

The couple added that they hoped Hodgson, 51, would be "given something to think about" by the recent media coverage of the case of notorious County Durham killer Albert Dryden.

Like Hodgson, Dryden has failed to admit his guilt for the shooting dead of planning officer Harry Collinson in 1991 and remains in prison.

Convicted double killer Levi Bellfield, 43, was sentenced to a whole-life term last week after being found guilty of murdering 13-year-old Milly in 2002.

After the trial, Milly's family hit out at defence lawyers for the ordeal they went through when giving evidence.

Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer admitted that the case raised fundamental questions about the treatment of victims in the courts.

Mark Rowley, Chief Constable of Surrey Police, added that it was a "most bizarre and distressing coincidence" that the Dowler family had their privacy "destroyed" at the same time as footballers were being granted super-injunctions to protect their personal lives.

During Hodgson's trial, the defence suggested Jenny had run off to get away from her abusive father.

After Hodgson was found guilty, the allegation was rejected by trial judge Mr Justice Openshaw who said: "It is entirely untrue - being just another of the defendant's devious and elaborate deceits."

Speaking for the first time about their own experiences of the trial, the Nicholls told The Northern Echo that Hodgson's lies resulted in their family undergoing a public character assassination.

The couple said: "The precise detail of family life or the character of a witness is not in the public interest unless there is a direct and proven relevance.

"It is usually only in the media interest as it sells papers or grabs a headline."

They have called for a change in the law to stop defence lawyers putting forward allegations that they suspect are false.

The Nicholls also want judges to ban reporting of some evidence to protect the privacy of victims, their families and witnesses "After all, they are there as responsible citizens to offer their version of events, not to have their private lives exposed to the world," they said.

The couple plan to write to the Government and others, including the Victims' Commissioner, to push for changes to the legal system to better protect witnesses.

Nineteen-year-old Jenny disappeared from the family home in Richmond, North Yorkshire, on June 30, 2005.

Hodgson has never admitted his guilt and her body has never been found.

Speaking about the recent media coverage of the 20th anniversary of the killing of Mr Collinson by Albert Dryden, the Nicholls said: "It appears that there are no plans by the parole board to release him.

"We hope this gives Hodgson something to think about as he has not admitted his guilt, let alone show any remorse whatsoever, or indicate what he did to Jenny and where he has put her remains."