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April Jones was killed by a 'sexually motivated' abductor who downloaded images of murdered Soham girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, a jury was told yesterday.
Mark Bridger, 47, kept child porn and pictures of dead youngsters on his laptop and studied vile internet images before kidnapping the five-year-old, it was alleged.
The former slaughterhouse worker is said to have snatched ‘happy and smiling’ April as she played outside her home one evening last October – hours after he was ditched by his girlfriend.
Then, the prosecution claims, he took her to his house and disposed of her body, leaving traces of blood and charred bone despite going to ‘enormous lengths’ to clear up. The bone fragments were found in the ashes of a wood-burning stove.
The chilling scenario of what the Crown says happened to the innocent child from Machynlleth, mid-Wales, was outlined yesterday as Bridger went on trial accused of abduction, murder and perverting the course of justice.
He denies the charges maintaining, according to the prosecution, that he accidentally ran April over with his Land Rover – and has ‘no recollection’ of what happened after he drove off with her.
Despite a huge search by police and public, her body has never been found. Yesterday the jury at Mold Crown Court was shown a series of images recovered from the former lifeguard’s computer, including those of Cambridgeshire ten-year-olds Holly and Jessica, murdered by paedophile school caretaker Ian Huntley in 2002.
Also shown were photographs of other child murder victims and images he had collected of local young girls, among them files specifically dedicated to April’s half-sisters, aged 13 and 16.
The jury heard that pictures of April, who had cerebral palsy, were accessed just eight days before she was abducted.
In addition, there was an animation which was watched hours before April went missing. It portrayed the rape of a ‘physically restrained and clearly distressed young girl’, prosecuting counsel Miss Elwen Evans QC told the jury.
She added: ‘In addition to child pornography and photos of young girls, the defendant also had an interest in child murder and rape cases; for example, images of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman from the Soham case. Why will you need to consider this sort of material? You will have to decide whether pretty five-year-old April was abducted and murdered or run over by accident and killed, as the defendant says.
‘We say his interest in pornography, young girls, rape and murder cases is all too relevant and you may see it as the key to understanding what he did and why he did what he did.’
Miss Evans said that after Bridger had been dumped by his girlfriend, he contacted a succession of women asking them to go out with him.
‘It is our case that the defendant’s actions – abduction, murder, covering up what he had done by disposing of the body – were sexually motivated. We say he knows full well what he has done to April, but chooses not to say.’
She went on: ‘On October 1 last year April Jones, happy and smiling, was seen getting into the defendant’s Land Rover.
‘He drove her away and that was the last that anyone apart from the defendant saw of April. The largest search in British policing history has failed to find her.
|Laptop: Bridger is alleged to have had pictures of murdered children on his computer, including Soham victims Holly Wells (left) and her best friend, Jessica Chapman, who were both 10 when Ian Huntley killed them|
‘April’s best friend saw the abduction taking place. She saw the defendant speaking to April. She saw April getting into his Land Rover and she saw the defendant taking April away.’
The jury of nine women and three men was told that April had been playing with a friend on their bikes near their homes on the Bryn-y-Gog estate, on the edge of the small market town of Machynlleth.
The two girls started to walk home because it was getting dark.
|Hunt: An appeal poster for information on missing child April Jones is displayed in a window Machynlleth, mid-Wales, but her body was never found|
|Trial: Mark Bridger, flanked by security, wiped away tears as a 999 call by April's mother was played to the court|
The friend, who cannot be named for legal reasons, saw April walk over to where Bridger was standing by his vehicle, Miss Evans said. ‘It looked as if he was waiting for someone. She saw April go over to the defendant and start talking. She saw April get into the car.
‘The defendant did not carry her – April got in herself. April was happy. She wasn’t crying. She was smiling.’
The court heard that April’s friend recognised the vehicle as the same one two friends had been in the day before. The two friends were Bridger’s children, the court heard.
‘I didn’t say anything,’ the friend said. ‘I just watched. I thought she would come back.’
THE CHILD PORN FILES: WHAT POLICE FOUND ON BRIDGER'S LAPTOP
Miss Evans told the jury: ‘That was the last that anyone apart from the defendant saw of April.’
April’s mother Coral and father Paul sat silently in the public gallery, each wearing a pink ribbon in memory of their daughter, as details of what the prosecution called Bridger’s ‘clear interest in child pornography and child murder cases’ was revealed.
Examples of the ‘distressing’ material downloaded to Bridger’s computer were shown on screens around the court.
At least one of the jury of nine women and three men put her hand to her face and bowed her head as they appeared. Some photographs were of apparently dead children, one a partly naked pre-pubescent girl hanging by her neck.
Others showed young girls bound and gagged or performing sex acts on adults.
When asked by police why he had images of naked children, Bridger said he ‘wanted to understand his own daughter’s physical development’, Miss Evans told the court. ‘He said he wanted to help her become a model.’
Bridger also claimed he complained to foreign porn companies about the content of some sites.
He admitted he did find some images sexually arousing ‘but only where the female was over 16 years of age’, Miss Evans said.
The jury heard that Bridger used his computer for various vile internet searches. Terms he used included: ‘Naked young five-year-old girls’, ‘nudism five-year-old’, ‘pictures of naked virgin teens’ and ‘France: British schoolgirl raped and murdered’.
The biggest search in British police history failed to find April Jones or any of her clothes, the court heard.
But jurors were told they would be invited to consider other strands of evidence in the absence of any explanation from Bridger as to what he did with her.
Miss Evans said that ‘as April’s body is lost to us’, other evidence would be considered as the trial progressed.
This included forensic material found at Bridger’s home – traces of her blood, plus charred fragments that appeared to be from a juvenile skull.
There would also be expert scientific and computer witness testimony, witness accounts, CCTV footage and scenes of crime evidence.
A series of police interviews with Bridger would also be shown.
The murder trial, which is expected to last seven weeks, continues this morning.
'He played a cruel game, pretending not to know what he did with her body'
The self-styled ‘survival and bushcraft’ expert accused of murdering April Jones played a ‘cruel game’ to try to cover up his crime, the jury was told.
Mark Bridger claims she died after he accidentally ran her over – and that he ‘blanked out’, losing all recollection of what he did with her body, the court heard.
According to the prosecution, the former lifeguard says he had originally intended to take her to get medical help, putting her into his Land Rover and driving her around the streets near their homes as she lay injured, dead or dying.
|Home: The cottage where Mark Bridger lived and prosecutors said traces of April Jones' blood was found|
He maintains that a combination of ‘drink, adrenaline and raw panic’ wiped out his recollection of subsequent events.
The 47-year-old ex-slaughterhouse worker could not explain to police why traces of the five-year-old’s blood and charred fragments of skull were found at his house, the jury was told.
'THE BIGGEST POLICE SEARCH IN BRITISH HISTORY'
Prosecutor Miss Elwen Evans QC said: ‘He has played a cruel game in pretending not to know what he has done to her, and with her. Where he got rid of her body, how he got rid of her body – he says that he does not know, that he cannot remember. It’s a game to try to save himself and manipulate his way out of his full responsibility in what he has done.’
Bridger’s defence against charges of abduction, murder and perverting the course of justice was outlined yesterday for the first time in public as he went on trial seven months after April disappeared from outside her home in Machynlleth, West Wales.
Coral and Paul Jones sat hand in hand in court as details emerged of Bridger’s admission that he ‘killed or probably killed her’.
Miss Evans told the jury that on October 2, the day after April vanished, Bridger appeared to be ‘acting in a remarkably normal way’.
She added: ‘He said he knew nothing at all about her disappearance until that morning, the morning after her abduction. His story changed when he realised he had been seen abducting her and driving her away.’
|Missing: April's disappearance sparked what is believed to have been the largest police search in UK history|
The court heard that he admitted he ‘must have’ disposed of her body but could not recall doing so.
He believed he had ‘put her out of the rain’ at one stage that day, but denied ever taking her to his home and said he did not sexually abuse her.
The jury was shown a photo of the cottage where Bridger lived – and where April’s blood and DNA were discovered.
Miss Evans told the jury: ‘This is the house where the blood, the bone fragments were found. That cottage is three miles from Machynlleth, called Mount Pleasant, and situated very close above the river there.
‘The defendant appears to have spent a lot of time outdoors, participating in what he calls survival and bushcraft.
‘He claimed to know the rugged terrain around Machynlleth well, and that’s been a significant feature in police determining the size, scope and scale in their search for April.
‘The defendant told people he had a career in the armed services, including the SAS, and had excelled during his military service.
‘Military records have of course been checked. His account of any career in the Army, in the forces, was a lie and a fantasy. He just never served in the Army.’
In fact, Bridger worked in an abattoir between 2009 and 2012 and at the time of April’s disappearance was employed at a guest house.
Miss Evans said that he was ‘an experienced slaughterman who knew how to use knives professionally’.
She spent nearly an hour detailing and challenging Bridger’s version of events, adding: ‘We say he knows full well what he has done to April but chooses not to say.’
The prosecution case was that he abducted and murdered her – then went to ‘enormous lengths to try to cover up what he had done’, including trying unsuccessfully to remove any forensic evidence from his home.
'Someone has driven off with my little girl': Harrowing 999 call made by April Jones's mother
Mark Bridger wiped away tears in the dock as the court heard the harrowing 999 call made by April Jones’s mother after she was told her daughter had disappeared.
The distressing conversation was played to a silent court room as Coral Jones and her husband Paul listened from the public gallery.
Members of the jury of nine women and three men were clearly upset and Bridger, who had shown little emotion throughout the day, shook his head and appeared to hold back tears. He then took a deep breath before wiping his eyes.
The court heard how the alarm was raised by April’s ten-year-old brother Harley at about 7.30pm on October 1, after a seven-year-old friend of hers told him she had seen April being driven away. Mrs Jones began the conversation with the 999 operator, then as she became more distraught she handed the phone over to friend and neighbour Valerie Jones.
Here is a transcript of what was said:
Coral Jones: ‘Please, my daughter’s been kidnapped from Bryn-y-Gog.’
Operator: ‘Hang on a second, tell me again, what did you say?’
Coral Jones: ‘My daughter was out playing with a friend and she’s been kidnapped.’
Operator: ‘You’ve been kidnapped?’ Coral Jones: ‘No, my daughter. She’s five years old. I’ve got to go.’
Valerie Jones: ‘Apparently, what happened, she’s gone off in a car with somebody. Somebody’s picked her up in a car or something. We haven’t seen anything, we’ve just been told. It’s my friend’s daughter. She’s gone panicking, looking.’
Operator: ‘What’s the name of the child who’s gone missing?’
Valerie Jones: ‘April Jones.’
Operator: ‘How old is she?’ Valerie Jones: ‘Five.’ Operator: ‘And this just happened just literally minutes ago, did it?
Valerie Jones: ‘Minutes ago, yes. She just said it’s a big grey car with a man driving. Everybody’s just scattered everywhere to go and look now and I’m just by the house.’
Operator: ‘How many people are out looking for her at the moment?’
Valerie Jones: ‘Her father, next-door neighbour, mother. She’s heading this way, back this way at the moment.’
Operator: ‘Is she OK, do you want me to speak? Hello, do you want me to speak to Coral?’
Coral Jones in the background, sobbing: ‘Come home. Somebody’s kidnapped April. Just come home please. Somebody’s kidnapped April, somebody’s kidnapped April.’