Wales

April Jones: Family urges potential abusers to seek help before offending

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Media captionThe father of April Jones has urged people who feel they may abuse children to seek help for their feelings first

The family of murdered five-year-old April Jones have urged people who fear they may sexually abuse children to seek help before they offend.

April went missing on 1 October 2012, in Machynlleth, mid-Wales, but despite the biggest police search in British history, her body has never been found.

Mark Bridger, who was convicted of her murder in 2013, had hundreds of pictures of children being abused.

April's family say people who sought help first "deserved a chance".

Since their daughter was murdered, Coral and Paul Jones have become campaigning voices on the restriction of online pornography.

They have let cameras into their house for the first time to talk about the impact of April's murder on their lives.

They lived every parent's worst nightmare; their beautiful five-year-old daughter went out to play on her little pink bike one evening and never came home.

This was the first time April's parents had let cameras into their home on the Bryn Y Gog estate in Machynlleth.

They agreed to let us make a film about how they managed to carry on with their lives when the world's media went away.

But one thing threw me when we first met.

Paul said: "We know you will want to talk to us about April - but can you do it at the end of the interview because if you do it at the start we won't be able to continue, we will just crack up and that's no good because you need to get the facts."

Image caption April's family have struggled to cope with the loss of their little sister and daughter

It was an unusual request considering the programme was meant to be all about April and their lives since losing her, but I quickly realised why Paul said it.

Like everyone else who knew the story of April's abduction and murder, I had seen them talk on the news - brief glimpses of their reactions to events.

But none of that had really conveyed just how fragile they still are.

No matter how many times they recounted their ordeal, the pain and the recollection of the horror they had survived would resurface.

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Media captionCoral Jones said she has received letters accusing her of being a "bad mum"

We agreed to do the interview in reverse order - I started to ask them about their campaign to stop online images of child abuse being so easily accessible and their decision to write a book about their ordeal.

They were focused and determined but inevitably, as the conversation turned to the moment they lost April, their voices changed and their faces told the story.

"Most marriages end after a murder in the family," said Paul.

Coral added: "We were told not long after losing April that many families can fall apart under the pressure, but we have stayed strong."

Image copyright Family handout via Wales News
Image caption April was killed by Mark Bridger in a sexually-motivated attack

It is clear from spending time with them that the couple rely on each other.

Paul - who is partially-sighted - and Coral, who became agoraphobic in the aftermath of losing her daughter, decided from day one that they would do everything together.

They learned the full devastating facts of the case together and made joint decisions about when they would share the information with their other children; Jazmin, now 19, and 13-year-old Harley.

In our conversations they referred to "losing April" instead of spelling out the horrific circumstances in which she disappeared.

'Evil'

A local man, Mark Bridger - someone they vaguely knew and who himself is a father of six - had snatched April off the street around the corner from her home and murdered her, leaving nothing more than her blood and some fragments of skull in a fireplace at the cottage he rented in nearby Ceinws.

That hideous crime threw their lives into chaos.

Her disappearance sparked the country's biggest police hunt but Bridger refuses to say exactly what he did with April or where he left her remains.

Image caption April's sister Jazmin says she has to be strong for her family, including younger brother Harley

Coral told me how at home they refer to paedophile Bridger as "MB" - to them, he is not worthy of mention and most of the time they refuse to let him enter their thoughts.

"He has already done too much damage," said Paul.

"He is a horrible, horrible man - I didn't think anyone was capable of that kind of evil."

Coral says she will never ask him where he left April - she will not give him that power.

Jazmin has rarely spoken to the media, but she agreed to be interviewed for our programme.

She preferred to do it in the bedroom she shared with April overlooking the estate and the hills.

It was a real privilege and a rare insight to hear her talk so eloquently about her family's loss.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bridger was sentenced to a whole-life term for murdering April

She did not cry - she remained composed throughout - a remarkable young woman who has put her family before her own feelings.

"I kind of turned round and was like, OK she's not coming home now, she's dead. I've got to be strong for my family. I can't just sit and cry all day, every day," she said.

As I spent time with the family, I realised they were dealing with grief in different ways.

Paul walks miles every day - his dogs Autumn and Storm barely leave his side as he seeks solace in the mountains above the town - it is where he goes to think and feel close to April.

Coral dealt with it by shutting out the world in the immediate aftermath, partly because she could not cope with the media spotlight.

It is two-and-a-half years on, but some days she still closes the curtains and stays on the sofa, trying to block everything out.

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption It is still not known where Bridger left April's body

After Bridger's conviction, Coral was so determined that April should not die in vain that she took the decision to appear on daytime TV as part of her campaign against paedophiles.

She appeared confident with her hair and make up done, but her daily life is a world away from that; severe anxiety means she cannot do some of the things she used to.

'Fear'

Coral is angry that Bridger not only murdered her youngest child but also robbed her of her freedom and peace of mind.

She said: "He didn't just take April from us and the town, I shouldn't be like this - because of him but I can't help it.

"I get frightened, I feel unsafe and I know people don't mean harm but when they come up to me when I am feeling frightened I can't cope with it.

"I will be glad when I get rid of this fear. It will take a lot of pressure off my husband, because he has to be with me or my kids wherever I go."

We filmed Coral and Paul as they did their shopping on market day - they feel more at ease close to home.

Image copyright Medavia Ltds
Image caption Coral and Paul Jones visit April's grave

"Soon after we lost April, we would be out somewhere trying to do normal things as best we could," said Paul.

"Complete strangers would come up to us and sometimes they'd throw their arms around us which freaked us out a bit. It made Coral very nervous, even though they meant well and were just being kind."

As we passed Machynlleth's clock, we see a pretty pink bow which the couple are allowed to display in memory of their daughter.

It is faded and Coral wondered whether it would be better to replace it before we filmed.

Paul said: "It's better to show it as it is - the fact it has faded doesn't mean she's forgotten - it just means time has passed."

On our last day with the family we went to the beach where April used to play in Aberdyfi; it was overcast and the light was fading.

From a distance and to passers-by, they looked like any normal, happy family of four.

As we thanked them for letting us into their lives to tell their story and said our goodbyes, I hoped that one day they would find the space and time to be just that.

  • Life after April: Week in Week out will be shown on BBC One Wales at 21:00 BST on Thursday 9 April

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