Please...my daughter’s been kidnapped…
Tourists come to the small Welsh community of Machynlleth attracted by both the historic market town and the scenic surroundings of the Cambrian Mountains.
Paul and Coral Jones live on a small housing estate in Machynlleth with their three children Jazmin, Harley and five year old April.
April was born seven weeks premature and complications during her first weeks left her with cerebral palsy down her left hand side - from her hip to her leg.
“She had a lot of pain with her leg...she was very determined to get up and do something even when her leg wouldn’t let her. So one of the things we did from the beginning was actually teach her to ride a bike at the age of three and a half which gave her mobility to get around...She loved that bike and she went everywhere on it.”
Paul Jones, April’s Father
April is a petite, sometimes shy, five year old but she is beautiful, has a cheeky smile and a huge hunger for life.
“Whatever you were doing, she had to be in on it. You couldn’t sit and watch a film without her being in on it. You couldn’t play on your laptop without her having to see what you were doing or having a go. She was always smiling, laughing, interested in everything.”
Jazmin Jones, April’s Sister
And when the pain in her leg becomes too much and she sits crying on the stairs, her mum, dad, brother or sister are always there to lift her up and comfort her.
The Monday morning routine of 1 October 2012 is a familiar one.
April shares her room with her 17 year old sister Jazmin. April’s side of the bedroom is painted pink – her favourite colour - and is covered in teddies. She often crawls over to Jazmin’s side to wake her for a cuddle. Her dad Paul then comes in to get her ready and as he’s sorting her, they shout for her ten year old brother Harley to get going.
All the kids then breakfast together.
With the children at school, Coral and Paul go shopping.
Then after school, April has her weekly swimming lesson at the local leisure centre. CCTV captures a happy and playful April exiting the centre, her hair still wet.
April comes home with a school friend and Paul makes them spaghetti on toast.
It’s a rather drizzly, cold October day but that makes no difference to April who wants to go out and, as ever, play on her bike. And as she’s had a good school report that day, she’s allowed to stay outside playing 15 minutes longer than usual.
It is a small community where everyone knows everyone else well enough to know their children are safe to be out on the streets.
Jazmin is at her youth club so her parents send Harley, her brother, to get April in for bed.
Harley comes back screaming hysterically.
“They’ve got her...he’s taken her...somebody’s taken her...she’s gone off in a car, a van...”
April’s mother Coral rings 999.
“Up to that point it was a very normal day. But our normality ended there.
And we haven’t had a normal day since.”
He's a local person
On the morning of 2 October, a police helicopter spots Mark Bridger walking his dog.The fact that he doesn’t look at up the helicopter above him immediately raises suspicions.He is challenged on the roadside, detained and arrested.His arrest unsettles an already troubled community. “It was quite scary because he’s the sort of person you’d be like, ‘Hey you. Alright?” to when you walked down the street. I didn’t know him well enough but I’d say you know, ‘Hello’ to him and when his picture popped up on TV it was like, ‘I know that guy, seen him around town, he’s a local person”.Jazmin Jones, April’s Sister At the police station, surprisingly, Mark Bridger calmly admits his involvement in the disappearance of April.He explains he was driving his Land Rover and had knocked April over as she was riding her bike. He’d placed her in his vehicle and tried to give her CPR. But because he was unable to revive her, he’d panicked and driven off.As dubious as his account sounds – and police found none of her blood on his car or on the road - Bridger has admitted killing her and so the police feel they have to inform April’s family. “The police did tell us everything, and that’s what we really appreciated. They never kept us in the dark or nothing.”Coral Jones, April’s Mother
Where April is, however, is still unknown. The search for her continues. Leaflets with her image are handed out.Though a forensic search of Mark Bridger’s cottage suggests hope of finding her alive would be misplaced. “...there was evidence of a clean-up at the property, particularly in the bathroom area...the other key piece of evidence ...was...the remains which were recovered from the hearth of the fire, which was the subject of some very, very detailed examinations forensically and which we believe are those remains of April Jones.”Andy John, Det. Superintendent, Dwfed-Powys Police Forensic officers find traces of blood throughout the cottage. In particular, there’s evidence of a substantial pooling of her blood near the hearth. It indicates April suffered significant harm there. The family is told of the implications of what this probably means. “...that night I put myself to bed at half past five and cried myself silly until one, two o clock in the morning. I actually soaked my pillow right through I cried that hard.”Paul Jones, April’s father And when forensics examine Bridger’s computer, it reveals his obsession with child pornography and child murders.As Professor Laurence Alison observes, we can be disgusted, but we shouldn’t be surprised. “The reality is there is a significant number of men that are interested in children...The best estimates on prevalence rates around paedophilia in the UK is between 1 and 3 percent or 1 in every 100 men will have a paedophilic interest in children...And there’s a significant number, albeit a small number, of men that would act on that impulse.”Prof. Laurence Alison, University of Liverpool
“On his computer he had cartoons of a kid being molested by an adult. He had pictures of other children. He had pictures of my...other daughter Jazmin, and April. He tried to say that he didn’t know April but (she was) there, with my other daughter Jazmin”Coral Jones, April’s mother In fact, Bridger had tried to make friends with Jazmin online saying he was a friend of her father’s. Suspicious of, amongst other things, the age difference, she’d deleted the request. Back at the police station, Mark Bridger is interviewed 13 times for over 18 hours.He’s confident, calm even - until he’s challenged on the evidence the detectives are finding.He’s charged with April’s abduction and murder.
one of the most horrific child murderers that there’s ever been
“Mark Bridger has got to be one of the most horrific child murderers that there’s ever been.”Andy John Det. Superintendent, Dwfed-Powys Police How Mark Bridger abducted April is still a mystery.April was playing with some other young children on their bicycles. How Bridger persuaded or even threatened April to join him is known only to him.The little that is known is that she goes missing at around 7:20PM.She is last seen entering the ‘wrong’ side of a vehicle or rather, a left hand drive vehicle. But a father often feels he knows when his daughter, his youngest, is in trouble.Paul Jones knows the exact moment he realised his daughter was gone forever.
“10:33 on 1st October 2012. I was standing outside by the back gate and there’s a weird feeling just for a split second and it’s almost like your heart stops and you can’t explain it. It just drops to your stomach and then it bounces back up and you can’t explain it, I can’t explain it - but I knew she wasn’t there.”
That is our future, just the four of us. Not the five of us.Paul Jones, April’s father
After seven months of searching for April’s body, the police ended the operation.
On 26 September 2013, just five days short of the anniversary of the day April went missing, the community of Machynlleth gathered for the funeral of April Jones.
A horse drawn carriage carries her coffin - though it contains little of April. Her final resting place still a mystery known only to Mark Bridger.
So that other parents may be spared their fate, Paul and Coral Jones have called for internet providers to restrict access to images of child abuse on the web. They have also asked for longer sentences for those convicted of sex offences against children.
They’re campaigning for new legislation which they hope will be called April’s Law.
“Once they’re put on the sex offender list they’re on it for life not come off it in like 6 years time or 5 years time they need to be put on it for life.” Coral Jones
“The way I see it is the internet sites are a big playground for paedophiles.”
Paul and Coral have even met with the Prime Minister, David Cameron.But as yet, little has changed.
One small consolation for them was that in November 2014, Mark Bridger’s cottage, Mount Pleasant, was bought by the Welsh government - and demolished.
But it is a small token for parents who still feel grief even when simply seeing other children play.
“You see them out playing and you think…
...She should be there. She should be playing”
Coral and Paul Jones
April’s sister, Jazmin, has to face a similar sadness in the everyday.
“I shared a room with April, so obviously in the morning you get up and you’re thinking, for that split second, you’re like, ‘Oh normal.’ And then you turn around and you’re like ‘Ah, no, she’s not there.’ You know, she’s not in her bed or waking you up, she’s not in everything you do so you do think of her because you could be watching a film and you’re thinking ‘Aw yeah, April would like this,’ so she’s constantly in your thoughts of everything you do.”
And, despite one of the biggest search operations in police history, April’s body has never been found.
Mark Bridger has refused to reveal what he knows.
Every 4 April, on what was April’s birthday, Paul places a pink ribbon on the mountains overlooking their home, in memory of her.
“The lasting image for me was only a few weeks before there was a double rainbow just outside the back of our house, and as she came out the door she squealed “enfys, enfys!” Enfys is Welsh for rainbow...she jumped up and down and pointed, two rainbows, “enfys, enfys”. I mean it was just the sheer joy she jumped up and down on the spot squealing it...and that’s the kind of girl she was.
“I wanted him to see us, and I wanted to see him”
In Spring 2013 Bridger faces trail at Mold Crown Court.
Bridger, 47, of Ceinws, mid Wales denies murder.
He maintains he accidentally knocked her over and now can’t remember where he’d put her body.
The Jones family are told they’re not required to attend - but April’s parents need to be there.
“I wanted him to see us, and I wanted to see him”
But Bridger only once looks their way in court. He’s in total denial of his actions and refuses to engage other than to give his clear, cold version of events. When he does try to come across as warm and human, he badly misjudges the situation. He refers to ‘little April’.
“Like it’s his little girl, and it was his, his love, his joy...”
“...that just made my blood boil”
Bridger is a confident but unconvincing witness. He changes his story when confronted by evidence.
He’s simply not credible when he attempts to explain why he possessed images of naked children and cartoon pictures of children being molested.
“Some of the stuff he had on there...he was trying to say that it was beneficial to show his kids the different stages of puberty. Of growing up from a young child and coming through puberty to an adult. And he was actually trying to convince the jury that the reason he had these nearly four-hundred images on his computers was partly to do with that. He lived in his own little world.”
One tiny positive outcome from the trial for April’s parents is that they are able to piece together what happened to their daughter.
From CCTV evidence, they know that Bridger drove April straight out of Machynlleth towards his home. They know that it where she was seriously harmed and probably killed there.
“What has happened beyond that point we cannot be sure, but it would be my view that other remains then may have been disposed of at various locations in the area of Ceinws. Because there were a number of hours obviously between the time of the abduction and the time that Mark Bridger was arrested for him to have had the opportunity to dispose of those remains.”
Andy John, Det. Superintendent, Dwfed-Powys Police
On Thursday 30 May, after just four hours, the jury finds Mark Bridger guilty of abducting and murdering April Jones and of disposing and concealing her body.
The judge, Mr Justice John Griffith Williams, in sentencing Mark Bridger, calls him a ‘pathological and glib liar.’
Mark Bridger is given a whole life sentence. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Kidnap in a small Community
Coral’s 999 call to the emergency services had given a very brief description of the vehicle seen in the vicinity at the time of April’s abduction.Police now find a witness with some critical information on that vehicle. The witness confirms to police that April got into a vehicle. Crucially, the witness is certain that April got into the wrong side of the vehicle, or rather, into a left hand drive vehicle. “Everybody went, ‘We know who it is.’ And I think 90% of the town probably knew who it was the minute they said ‘left hand drive.’Paul Jones, April’s Father Indeed, Paul had even once been fishing with the owner of that car.During the early hours of 2 October, local man, Mark Bridger becomes a person of interest.Word spreads quickly. PRIME SUSPECT Mark Bridger had lived within the Machynlleth community for some years in a cottage called Mount Pleasant. The 46 year old father does have a police record but otherwise, is an unremarkable man.“...He was not on our radar. He was not somebody that we considered to be a risk...In terms of his previous offending, there were minor offences that he’d been found guilty of but nothing to the extent that would have raised his profile from our perspective.”Andy John, Det. Superintendent, Dwfed-Powys Police
Bridger would tell people he’d served in the military. He hadn’t.He was, in fact, a former slaughterhouse worker. Before he moved to Machynlleth, he’d been a drifter with a history of broken relationships.The day before April’s abduction, he continued that pattern and broke up with his latest partner.He spent the rest of the day contacting women online.And, he engages in his other favourite online pastime – downloading and viewing child pornography. According to Professor Laurence Alison, from the University of Liverpool, there are two alternative theories as to how paedophiles use child pornography.One, the compensation model, believes that potential offenders view images online helping them resist the urge to make their fantasies a reality.The other, the behavioural facilitation model, believes repeated use of such imagery desensitises the viewer until only the thrill of an actual act of child abuse will stimulate.It’s this latter model into which Bridger fits.Professor Laurence Alison also believes Bridger’s actions were more predictable than many may have thought.“There are factors that would make someone a higher risk than someone else. And it might seem counterintuitive...You may have one individual that has got no previous convictions and no other indications of anti-social behaviour at all, and has thousands of images of children...Versus someone else that has got a very lengthy history of previous convictions for all kinds of things and actually not necessarily, and quite often not, sex offences...(for example) burglary, theft, acquisitive crime, violent crime etc. etc. that’s got three or four images of children – that individual would most certainly be more dangerous.”Mark Bridger’s criminal records stretched back 25 years and did include convictions for theft and possession of a firearm. He had also been violent with partners and had a problem with drinking.But he wasn’t convicted of a sexual offence and so was never considered a threat to children. As a driver of a left hand vehicle, the last vehicle April was seen in, police want to speak to him. They deploy a number of teams to a number of addresses. When one team enters his home address they are struck by two things: “The officers in attendance did notice firstly that it was very hot within the home. There was a roaring fire in the house and also a very strong smell of detergent something similar to bleach.” Andy John, Det. Superintendent, Dwfed-Powys Police Outside, the search continues.Coral asks everyone to wear pink as this is April’s favourite colour.Pink ribbons start being tied to railings and posts all over the town.
The Community fights back
There’s a local officer working at Machynlleth that evening and so when the emergency call comes through, a police woman is at the scene within about seven minutes.She’s met by a traumatised family and anxious neighbours fearful of what’s happened to April - and what might happen to their children. The officer tries her best to extract a clear account of the abduction in order to tell her communications centre - all while trying to calm a community facing its worst fear: the taking of one of its own.This is the scene Jazmin finds after running home from her youth club. She comforts herself by thinking:“This isn’t real. This isn’t real.”Her neighbours start their own ad hoc search parties and begin knocking on doors around the estate.It’s now 8 o’clock. Dark is closing in. Torches are brought out to check alleys and garages.And as the search through the streets, homes and estate grows, the word goes out on social media......Our April is missing...Have you seen her?
very little time
The search is co-ordinated and led from the local leisure centre by Detective Superintendent Andy John. He organises the search parties and finds a huge number of volunteers ready to go anywhere. Nearly everyone helps in the search. “Nearly all of ‘Mach’ turned out...we had friends from further apart...even people we didn’t know – they came.”Coral Jones, April’s Mother “There was a man and he’d come all the way from Manchester that evening just to help - he was asking us ‘Where do you want me to go?’ And we were like, ‘Well, if you stay with local people at least you know where you’re going.’Ceri Herbert, Family Friend The search spreads from the estate, into the neighbouring hills, country lanes and forest trails. April’s sister Jazmin is told not to join these searches.“I wasn’t really allowed to go out into the mountains with the other people, just in case you did see something. So...because I didn’t want to go home and just sit there...waiting, I thought the best thing I could do, go out with my friend, put posters up in bus stops, shops, lamp posts.” April’s mother Coral can’t sit at home either. So someone drives her round in her own car so Coral can help in the search.Her worst fears as a mother have come true.And now the weather is turning against the search. It’s wet, cold and dark.Some of the search teams work right through the night.“Some of the search teams and stuff were ordered to stop and go back because they were exhausted. They wouldn’t stop.”Paul Jones, April’s FatherNationwide, it becomes the largest ever manhunt.Within the first day, over a 1000 calls are logged to a national hotline. “We knew from previous research that if April had been abducted or kidnapped...we knew that we had very little time to play with in terms of finding April safe and well.”Andy John, Det. Superintendent, Dwfed-Powys Police