April Jones murder trial: Mark Bridger, the trusted neighbour who was an alcoholic with an obsession with child pornography

The five-year-old's killer went to great lengths to cover his tracks

Mark Bridger was an alcoholic paedophile who was infatuated with young girls and who lived out violent sexual fantasies though the internet. On a chilly autumn evening last October, shortly after going to a parents’ evening at his daughter’s school, he took trusting April Jones into his Land Rover and made the evil fantasy a reality.

He murdered the five-year-old and disposed of her body. So effective were his efforts at concealing her remains – either by incinerating them in the woodburner at his whitewashed cottage just a few miles from April’s home, or hiding them in the hills and streams of the surrounding mid-Wales countryside – that she was never found, despite the largest search operation ever mounted in British policing history.

During the hunt, teams of professional searchers on land, sea and air were joined by hundreds more volunteers who flocked to Machynlleth from all over the country. Bridger was immediately the chief suspect in the hunt. He wove an elaborate and fantastical defence initially while being interviewed by police, thwarting any hopes of finding the child alive, and then during the course of the month-long trial. Despite outward displays of regret, he showed no regard for the heartache his obfuscation and lies heaped on April’s grieving family.

His claims that she had died in a road traffic accident with his Land Rover Discovery and that fuelled by panic and alcohol he was unable to recall what he had done with her body were as risible as they were calculated. Bridger’s distinctive vehicle had been spotted by April’s friend on the night she went missing. Her blood was discovered throughout his home, mainly concentrated in front of the stove where fragments of a child’s skull were also recovered, along with a charred boning knife.

Before the murder, Bridger – a powerful six-footer with a snake tattooed on his arm – was a trusted figure on the Bryn-y-Gog estate where he had had relationships with at least two women and used to invite children over for sleepovers at his house.

The father of six – the product of four relationships – was also well known to the Jones family. He claimed to have been a Facebook friend of April’s mother Coral with whom he used to exchange greetings in the street after helping her with her car.

Yet the family knew nothing of his compulsions – believing him like many others to be a former serving officer with the SAS who had trained in exotic locations around the world, a myth he perpetrated after arriving in mid-Wales in the late 1980s. In fact, Bridger had a long criminal record which he had begun to accumulate aged 19.

He had pleaded guilty to offences including attempting to take a car, possession of a firearm, having an imitation firearm, theft and two counts of obtaining property by deception. But though he was regarded as a drinker with a short and often violent temper, particularly directed against women and on one occasion a fellow motorist in a road rage attack, he was never considered a risk to children or convicted of a sexual offence.

The college dropout had drifted through a series of jobs. After moving to Wales following a row with his family in Surrey, he worked as a lifeguard, a slaughterhouse worker and in forestry – an occupation which gave him specialist knowledge of the tracks and hills surrounding the market town.

Bridger’s personal life had begun to unravel in the months leading up to the murder. On the day of the killing, as he sent angry text messages to an ex-girlfriend and tried to arrange dates with other women, he spent time viewing his collection of child pornography. Carefully categorised into separate folders were pictures of Soham murder victims Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and British schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson who was raped and killed on a trip to France in 1996.

One file was marked “clothed” while another other bore the name of April’s 16-year-old half-sister who he had described as “beautiful” and an “up and coming model”. She had earlier refused a Facebook request to befriend the 47-year-old on the advice of her mother. The files contained photos from the social networking site including a number of April which were downloaded eight days before her murder. There were also pictures of a teenage daughter of one of Bridger’s friends and other young girls from the town.

Bridger insisted throughout that he was not a paedophile, claiming he was impotent as a result of antidepressants and alcohol abuse – telling the court he drank up to 25 cans of cider and a bottle of wine a day.

Yet for all his lies and claims that he was out of control on drink and panic, Bridger went to extraordinary lengths to cover his tracks. His cottage had been comprehensively cleaned and the fire spotted burning evidence away as he calmly walked his dog while the rest of the town frantically searched for the missing child. A blood test taken when he was arrested contradicted his assertion that he had been drinking heavily before April’s disappearance. It also emerged that he had approached three other girls before making off with his victim.

On the day she disappeared, April had been allowed to play outside because she had been given a glowing report from school. Despite months of searching, the Joneses do not know where what happened to their daughter’s remains – a secret that the man who killed her refuses to disclose.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness