April Jones trial: Friend tells court missing schoolgirl was 'smiling when she got into a grey Land Rover'

Child witness says five-year-old friend appeared to go willingly

A seven-year-old girl described how a smiling and happy-looking April Jones climbed into the back of a grey Land Rover on the night that she disappeared even though her parents had warned her about the dangers of going off in strangers’ vehicles.

Appearing via videolink, the child was seen clutching her teddy bear and was given juice and crisps as she recalled the events of the night her friend went missing whilst playing outside her home in Machynlleth, Powys, Mid Wales, in October last year.

A DVD of her police interviews was played to the jury at Mold Crown Court where former slaughterhouse worker Mark Bridger, 47, is on trial for abduction, murder and perverting the course of justice by hiding April’s remains.

Her disappearance sparked the biggest police search ever conducted in Britain although her body has never been fund. April’s blood and remnants of what is believed to be a child’s skull were found at Bridger’s cottage three miles from her home. He claims he accidentally killed April in a collision with his Land Rover and cannot remember what he did with the body

The child, who cannot be named because of her age, told investigators that she and her five-year-old friend had been playing together but it had started to get dark and called for her to come home.

She was asked to draw a picture of the vehicle she had seen and told police she saw her friend “by a Land Rover van” on the Bryn-Y-Gog estate” where April lived. She said: “I saw her by the person that was waiting by the van.” Bridger bowed his head as the jury listened to her evidence.

The child watched proceedings via the videolink from Aberystwyth, accompanied by an adult. Her evidence was recorded the day after April’s disappearance. The jury could see the youngster sitting on a sofa holding a toy rabbit as she was asked questions about what she had witnessed.

”She did not say she was going to go in it. I know they (April's parents) wouldn't let her go at that time. The man didn't take her in the van - she got into the van, having a happy face she had and she wasn't upset,“ she said.

The child told an officer that she saw the man climb out of the vehicle.

“He was waiting outside the van for someone, I don't know who. I don't think it would be April he would be waiting for. I don't know why April would want to get into the van because her mum and dad told her not to get into vans like that.

“She wasn't crying, she was happy. She got into the back of the van and it just drove off the way it came and parked,” she said.

The girl said the man was wearing a green jacket and “bluey/black jeans”. “I can definitely tell you he had brown hair,“ she added. “It wasn't that dark and I could see he had brown hair because the headlights were on.”

April got into the front door of the Land Rover after finding the rear entrances to be ”locked or broken”, she said.

“I told April's mum April had gone in someone's car and she hasn't came back,” the seven-year-old said.

During the special hearing Mr Justice Griffith-Williams, barristers and court officials discarded their wigs and robes to create a less formal setting for the child’s evidence. Proceedings were paused every 15 minutes so the youngster did not “tire or lose concentration”.

The judge warned her that it was important to tell the truth. Under cross examination by Brendan Kelly QC, who is defending Bridger, she was asked whether her mother had shown her pictures of Land Rovers before she spoke to police.

Answering questions through an intermediary she replied that she had drawn what she had seen.

Mr Kelly also suggested that she had misremembered certain details about the vehicle and challenged her over how April had got into the van.

The trial continues.