The hunt for April Jones: Searching for a miracle, braced for the worst

The people of Machynlleth are desperate to help find the missing five-year-old. But time is running out...

There were just three hours of daylight left when around 100 volunteers were finally given their orders. All day they had been coming to Machynlleth leisure centre, the suddenly teeming impromptu headquarters of the hunt for five-year-old April Jones, who was by now facing her third desperate night away from home.

As the sun began to drop down over the steep mountainsides that envelop the ancient Welsh capital, they set out in their wellies and waterproofs. Those without local knowledge or specialist outdoor skills were asked to stay away for fear of overwhelming the search in what police described as a vast and hostile environment.

The brief was simple: stay safe and concentrate on the communities they knew – the deserted barns, the sheds and empty buildings of the outlying villages where the child might, just might, be safe and well.

"It's a question of trying to control people's enthusiasm. They are frustrated and want to be out there," explained volunteer co-ordinator Anwen Morris, 31, who had spent much of the past 24 hours fielding well-intentioned offers of help from people who had travelled from as far away as Manchester and Bristol.

Throughout the day helicopters buzzed overhead and mountain rescue teams from across Wales took advantage of the autumn sunshine to scour the boggy hillsides. Yet investigators focused on the deep, fast-flowing waters of the Dyfi, which runs through the town.

Derek Roberts, section manager of HM Coastguard, was overseeing 37 officers who had spent the morning on a four-kilometre stretch of riverbank. "It's a treacherous area, an awful lot of fast-flowing water," said Mr Roberts.

After days of heavy rain the Dyfi was swollen and surrounding fields flooded. At low tide a hovercraft was deployed to search the sand flats of the estuary eight miles downstream while kayaks were used to examine the inaccessible meanders.

Last night, police search teams had brought the hunt closer to the estate where April lived with her family. Locals said the young girl knew the man being questioned by police quite well. It was claimed she had been spotted playing in Mark Bridger's Land Rover Discovery two days before she disappeared.

Police took the unusual decision to name the 46-year-old yesterday and urged anyone who knew anything of his movements between Monday, when April was seen getting into a vehicle, and when he was arrested on Tuesday afternoon to come forward.

Mr Bridger, a former soldier, was well known in the tight-knit community of 2,000 people, having moved to the town about 20 years ago from his home in Surrey. Since then he had fathered five children with a variety of partners but had recently split from his latest girlfriend, a mother-of-two who also lived on the estate. He was a regular in the local pubs and it is believed he had been sleeping rough in his vehicle since the relationship ended last week.

Michelle Price, 31, was a neighbour of the Jones family on the Bryn-y-Gog estate. She was among a group who had spent the afternoon searching around the local golf course. "Everyone knows him or of him," she said. "We would see him going through now and again when he went to sign on."

Rod Bird, 67, a retired plumber, was coming down off Penrallt, a mountain area of dense brambles near a slip road close to where April was last seen. "If she is hidden up there it has been very cold and wet. Without any food, a five-year-old is not going to last very long in those conditions," he said.

Jane Wrigley, 47, and Fiona Moran, 34, both moved to the area to raise their families. "We don't lock our doors, we don't lock our car – we do things that we would not do in Birmingham. Everybody knows everybody. That's what's great," said Ms Moran, a mother-of-one.

"It is really special having that," agreed Ms Wrigley. "I do not want to lose the idea that children can go outside to play with their friends or ride their bikes. It is such an unusual thing to happen not just here but anywhere."

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

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'