April Jones murder: How the net closed in on Bridger

Footage from a police helicopter captured Mark Bridger walking his dog the day after April Jones's disappearance

A police helicopter hovers over Mark Bridger as he walks his dog near his whitewashed cottage five miles outside of Machynlleth.

It is 10:42 on 2 October. Police and volunteers have been searching for missing five-year-old April Jones for over 10 hours.

There is little doubt that as he walked his dog, Bridger knew the net was closing in on him. Not once does he lift his gaze to look up at the Dyfed-Powys Police helicopter circling above him.

A plume of smoke can be seen rising through the chimney from the fireplace of his home, where forensics experts would later find traces of human bones belonging to a child.

When April was abducted the evening before, the first person detectives spoke to was the seven-year-old friend she had been playing with before she climbed into Bridger's 4x4 not far from her family home on the Bryn-y-Gog estate in the mid-Wales town of Machynlleth.

The girl told officers how a man had been standing next to his "grey van" and that he had spoken to April who had then willingly climbed into his vehicle.

April Jones April had been playing with a friend when she disappeared from the Bryn-Y-Gog estate

Her testimony was to be crucial in countering Bridger's story that he had accidentally knocked April over and had lifted her dying body into the vehicle himself.

He was drunk, he claimed, and could not recall what he had done with April's body but was sure he had put it somewhere safe.

Because of the account of April getting into the vehicle on what would usually have been the driver's side, officers suspected the vehicle they were looking for was a left-hand drive Land Rover.

April's friend had also told police how the man who had taken April had brown hair, a beard, blue or green eyes, and was wearing a green jacket or a jumper, jeans and trainers.

By the next morning, presumably in an attempt to change his appearance, Bridger had shaved the beard off and cut his hair.

Det Supt Andrew John, who led the investigation, confirmed that by the time the helicopter flew over Bridger's house, the father of six had become very much part of the inquiry.

"He was not somebody who came into the inquiry early doors," he said.

"Mark Bridger came into the inquiry during the early morning of 2nd October.

"During investigations that we conducted during the night, we established that a person fitting his description and the vehicle fitting the description that he owned, was seen in the area at the time."

When asked, given April's friend's description of the distinctive left-hand drive 4x4, if officers missed crucial time in not identifying Bridger sooner, Det Supt John said he believed they had got to him "as soon as practicable at the time".

"We had to identify who that individual was, where [he] lived, whether he had access to vehicles, what his background was, what intelligence was held on our systems," he explained.

Mark Bridger Mark Bridger had lied about being involved in the search for April Jones

"It took some time to work on that. It may sound, in hindsight, as if that took a long time but I can assure you that the time was eaten up very quickly with the inquiries we were taking.

"We had a number of addresses for him on the system and we had to consider our response to each. That had to be done simultaneously and that took a little bit of time in terms of planning."

Through the course of the morning, people had come forward to say they had seen Bridger's vehicle at the scene at the relevant time.

Others gave details about his unusual behaviour.

"We considered the relevance of him being in the area at [that] time," said Det Supt John.

"The fact was we had some eyewitnesses who eventually came forward [that] morning to say they saw his vehicle in the area, in Bryn-y-Gog where the abduction had taken place, during the relevant time."

Mark Bridger's Land Rover Bridger's Land Rover was seen driving around the Bryn-Y-Gog estate on the night April disappeared

He added: "I looked into his background, whether he was known to the family, whether he'd formed any relationships in the area. All that information had to be taken into consideration."

It emerged that Bridger had taken his Land Rover to the Dyfi Autos garage, at 09:00 the day after April disappeared, saying he had been in an accident.

A member of staff told his murder trial that while everybody locally had been upset by April's disappearance they found it "odd that he was so upset by it all" and he looked "on the verge of crying as he spoke about it".

A mechanic said he kept asking how much his vehicle would cost to repair and when he could have it back. He appeared "nervous and edgy", he recalled.

Another person who had joined the search for April and travelled through Ceinws, where Bridger was living, told police she had seen Bridger near a lay-by carrying what looked like a black bin liner in his hand.

The lay-by, close to the river Dulas, was less than half-a-mile from Bridger's cottage, Mount Pleasant.

Bridger's house Mount Plesant in Ceinws Bridger's rented home Mount Pleasant in Ceinws, near Machynlleth

Meanwhile, Bridger was desperately trying to keep up the facade that he knew nothing about April's disappearance.

When he spoke to a postman about April he feigned shock and asked what sort of vehicle police were looking for.

But he managed to contradict himself later when he joined a search party at about 14:00, first telling one volunteer he had found out at 09:30 that morning, then telling another he had been out searching through the night.

Four addresses

Det Supt John said:"Once he was a suspect I had teams of officers dedicated to looking for him."

By the afternoon - less than 12 hours after April had gone missing - police were on their way to arrest him.

The investigating team had four potential addresses for Bridger, but as he had moved to his cottage in Ceinws to the north of Machynlleth only six weeks earlier, it did not come up on their system.

During a parents' evening the day before, Bridger had told Gwenfair Glyn, the head teacher of Ysgol Gynradd Machynlleth, about his change of address.

The following day, as rumours around town linked Bridger with April's disappearance, Ms Glyn called police to tell them he had recently moved.

Officers were sent to all four addresses simultaneously with authorisation to enter. At this stage, of course, they were more concerned with finding April alive than arresting Bridger.

At 14.25 on 2 October, Det Con Sarah Totterdale was dispatched to Bridger's cottage with two other officers to arrest the former slaughterhouse worker and look for April.

'Emotional wreck'

When they pulled up outside the whitewashed cottage at 15.03, there were no vehicles at the property.

Det Con Totterdale went into the cottage and shouted, "April, April...". There was no response.

The wood burner in the living room made the house uncomfortably hot and there was a strong smell from cleaning products.

It was about 30 minutes later that Bridger was spotted by a patrol car. He was walking along the road en route to Machynlleth.

Mark Bridger's home Bridger's home was hot and smelled of cleaning products, the jury was told

After confirming his name to the officer, Bridger turned and said: "I know what it is all about."

PC Saunders asked him: "Where is she?" Mr Bridger replied: "It was an accident. I crushed her with the car. I don't know where she is."

From the point he was arrested, officers have described Bridger as an "emotional wreck".

Despite being told he did not have to say anything as they drove to Aberystwyth police station, Bridger said he needed to talk.

"I have been looking for her all night and today on foot because my vehicle is in the garage," he told the PC. "It is a left-hand drive Land Rover Discovery.

"I didn't abduct her. I did my best to revive her. I panicked. I didn't even know until this morning who she was until I saw the television. I just wish I knew what I had done to her, where I put her. I want to say sorry to the family.

"There was no life in her, no response, no breath, no response in her eyes. She was just on the seat. I tried to revive her."

Still in the car, he insisted: "I would not have dumped her. She is a human being."

Within days he was charged with April's murder. The search for her body continued for seven months. It finally ended in April this year. Her remains have never been found.

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