The mother of the murdered schoolgirl April Jones has described her “frantic” search for her daughter in a heart-rending day in court that also saw the girl’s father reveal he has known the accused for more than 20 years.
The final moments Coral Jones spent with her daughter on 1 October last year – and the desperate search that followed her disappearance – were relived yesterday as her statement was read to Mold Crown Court in north Wales.
April had asked to go out and play on her bike with a friend, her mother testified in words read out by the prosecuting barrister, Elwen Evans QC.
Mrs Jones, 43, said the couple initially refused but gave in after “a little tantrum” from April.
Twenty minutes later, April’s older brother was sent out to collect his sister with darkness falling. “Within a very short time he came running home and he was in a hysterical state,” Mrs Jones said. “When I calmed him down he said that April’s friend had seen her getting into a car with a man and that she had gone.”
Mrs Jones immediately called the police and what was to become one of the UK’s biggest ever police search operations was under way. “I went out and searched around the estate, everywhere I could think of,” she said. “I even looked in the bins. I asked a friend to drive me around in my car. I was frantic, trying to find her.”
In another written statement read to the court, April’s father, Paul Jones, said he first met Mark Bridger in the early 1990s when the pair had been dating two sisters – when he had thought it strange that Mr Bridger, who was in his 30s at the time, had a 15-year-old girlfriend.
“I remember thinking that she was a little young for him – he was twice her age,” he said. Although remembering him to be “a pleasant bloke”, Mr Jones recalled Mr Bridger driving his rally car “like a maniac” and that he was “a risk taker”.
“I remember that he once went around a blind bend at speed and was not concerned at all,” he said.
The pair saw little of each other once their relationships with the sisters, which both resulted in children, ended. Mr Jones, 41, said: “I can’t think of any reason why Mark Bridger would take April – he is a father too. I don’t understand why he would do this to her.”
The jury also heard evidence from April’s 16-year-old half-sister, who cannot be named for legal reasons, describing persistent attempts by Mr Bridger, 47, to be her Facebook friend. Mr Bridger told her he knew her father but she refused to be friends with him following the advice of April’s mother.
The court later watched a series of CCTV clips tracking Mr Bridger’s movements in his Land Rover the day April went missing and the following morning when he walked his dog. Images of April running and skipping at a leisure centre moments before she disappeared were also viewed.
Mr Bridger, of Ceinws, mid-Wales, denies abduction, murder and intending to pervert the course of justice by disposing of, concealing or destroying April’s body. The case was adjourned until Tuesday.