April Jones case: Defence casts doubt on witness evidence

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Media captionMark Bridger denies all the charges against him

The lawyer defending a man accused of murdering five-year-old April Jones has cast doubt on the evidence of her young friend.

Mark Bridger, 47, of Ceinws, Powys, denies abducting and murdering five-year-old April, who went missing near her Machynlleth home on 1 October 2012.

Her friend told Mold Crown Court April got into his car "happy and smiling".

But Brendan Kelly QC told the jury there were inconsistencies in her evidence.

Mr Bridger has said he accidentally knocked April down with his Land Rover Discovery but cannot remember what he did with her body because he "panicked" and was drinking heavily.

In the prosecution closing speech earlier, the jury was told Mr Bridger's account of events was "totally incredible".

The prosecution has said he murdered April in a sexually motivated attack and told a "web of lies" to cover it up.

Earlier, the jury heard the prosecution saying April's seven-year-old friend had been seen by her getting into Mr Bridger's car with a "smiling face".

But during the defence's closing speech to the jury, Mr Kelly asked the court whether the evidence of April's friend could be relied upon.

He said the girl's evidence was important but "as with any other witness you hear, you have to test it".

Mr Kelly said the girl had talked about being shown a blue Land Rover. He added: "She had drawn Land Rovers for the police before. Everybody was cross-examined and nobody has been able to provide that particular piece of paper."

He said inconsistencies in the girl's evidence were "utterly consistent with honesty" but had a negative effect on the reliability of her evidence, which was the "cornerstone" of the trial.

He added: "Once checked, we would argue what has she been shown and what has she guessed?"

He said if the jury was less than certain about the evidence of April's friend then the case "remains unproven".

Earlier, Mr Kelly said Mr Bridger had been involved in a car accident and not an abduction.

He told the jury: "Back on Monday, 29 April I suppose many of you if not all of you were in a state of shock... that is the day that you were chosen to try this case. Members of the jury, if not shock, then perhaps fear.

"You all understood, you were aware of the... horror, the utterly appalling end to a child's life, the feeling of obvious revulsion towards the man suspected of having murdered her. The nation was and is appalled."

He went on to say that on that day, the jury saw for the first time a man described as "the paedophile, the liar..." but said Mr Bridger had denied all the allegations.

Image caption April Jones has not been seen since 1 October last year

"He challenges the compelling conclusions that have been described to you... he says that he is not guilty of those offences," he said

He added: "You may only convict this defendant if you are sure, sure of the evidence that is put before you.

"If you are sure it will be your pleasure to convict Mark Bridger but if you are less than sure it will be your pleasure to acquit Mark Bridger... that is why we have the trial process."

Talking about Mr Bridger's computer, he said many of us "would have been sickened by the content of that computer, little doubt".

But he went on to say that if the jury had judged him a paedophile, "a paedophile is just as likely to have a car accident as you or me".

He added: "A liar, even a drunken liar, is just as likely to have a car accident as you or me."

Mr Bridger was "not being tried for what he might be like. He's tried on those three counts. It's those which you need to be sure of", said Mr Kelly.

He said that if the jury thought his actions were those of a "drunken coward" they needed to question "whether or not it's the behaviour of a murderer".

Mr Kelly referred to evidence from a garage owner who confirmed a child would have had difficulty opening the Land Rover door.

He added: "Is the defendant... hoping that he gets lucky, or is he, or might he be, telling the truth?"

Referring to Mr Bridger's claim in police interview that there were no fingerprints in the car, he said: "How did he know that? Because they weren't there."

He continued: "One print in that car, his story... is finished... there were none and there were no prints in that car from April Jones."

Talking about the Land Rover, Mr Kelly said there were 26 fingerprints found inside. He said there "was no clean-up in that car", adding: "Did he get lucky that there was no fingerprint [of April's] found?"

He said fingerprint experts had checked school books and had "a very good idea as to April's prints, and they weren't there".

'Known by everybody'

He said no fibres were found in or on the car and evidence showed that the type of coat April was wearing would have shed fibres. He also referred to the scene of the collision not being properly checked.

Mr Kelly said the defendant had lived on the Bryn-Y-Gog estate, where April lived, in three separate houses and was "known by everybody".

"He drove probably the only left hand drive Land Rover in that part of Wales... if he was meaning to abduct, why in front of all that risk?" he said.

Mr Kelly said Mr Bridger had been seen by 11 different witnesses after leaving the parents' evening at the school adding: "He knew that he had been seen. Consistent with an accident, or an abduction?"

He said the defendant "bears no burden of proof, he need prove nothing".

Concluding, Mr Kelly asked whether the jury was sure his actions were those of a sex offender or a man drunk at the wheel after an accident.

He added: "It's only if you are sure that he abducted that he really deserves to be convicted on these counts."

Image caption Mark Bridger lived in a cottage in Ceinws, Powys

Watched by April's parents Paul and Coral who have attended court every day of the trial, the judge began summing up the case later on Tuesday.

He started by reminding the jury that shortly after 19:00 on 1 October, a 999 call was made reporting April missing.

He said a "massive hunt" for her followed and there was huge national interest as so many "shared the nightmare with April's parents".

"There is now no doubt that she is dead," he added.

He said there was considerable sympathy and pity for April's parents who had suffered an "incalculable loss".

However, he said the jury must concentrate only on the evidence of the case.

He said: "All the answers you need will be found in the evidence, and so you must not speculate... to speculate is to guess." No verdict should be based on guesswork, he said.

Referring to the evidence of April's friend, he said: "You may have siblings, children or grandchildren of [her friend's] age... [she] is not that far along her life's journey... at her age, life viewed through her eyes and mine is likely to be different to life viewed through your eyes."

He told the jury not to speculate on how April had died. Her body had not been found but the defendant accepted April was dead, the judge said.

Expert witnesses

Later, the judge said the jury could take into account Mr Bridger's lies about the military and regard it as evidence to support the prosecution's case, but added that a lie or a series of lies could not prove his guilt.

On expert witnesses, he said their evidence could be considered but the jury must look at it in the context of the evidence as a whole.

He also told the jury he would remind them on Wednesday of the crucial evidence in the case.

"It is your view and only your view... that matters," he added.

In his early career, he said he remembered a judge telling jurors: "If they keep their feet on the ground, their heads will not be in the clouds."

Above all, he said the jury must "apply common sense".

Mr Bridger also denies intending to pervert the course of justice.

The case continues.