Thursday 18 December 2014

Bridger ‘downloaded photos of April Jones days before she went missing’, court told

Mike Hornby

Published 15/05/2013 | 16:53

April Jones
April Jones

The man accused of murdering April Jones had viewed and downloaded Facebook photos of the five-year-old in the days before she disappeared, a jury heard today.

April, who had cerebral palsy, vanished while playing on her bike near her home in Machynlleth, Mid Wales, on October 1 last year.

Mark Bridger, 47, denies abducting and murdering the schoolgirl in a "sexually motivated" attack.

Giving evidence today, Merfyn Ray, manager of the High Tech Crime Unit at Dyfed Powys Police, showed the jury picture files and folders on Bridger's Acer laptop, which was found at his home in Ceinws following his arrest.

Questioned by Elwen Evans QC, prosecuting, Mr Ray said the computer contained images of naked under-age girls and adult women as well as explicit cartoons.

There were also photographs of clothed girls, including youngsters from the Machynlleth area, murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and the victims of similar cases.

At around 7.20am on September 22, nine days before April vanished, Mr Ray said Bridger viewed 22 Facebook photos of one of April's half-sisters, among them were pictures which also showed April.

At about 7.30am he looked at nine images of another local girl and three minutes later looked at more pictures of April and a half-sister.

Mr Ray told the jury: "When Mr Bridger is looking at Facebook, the site provides the computer with a brief record."

Several pictures of April's half-sister, including one with April, were saved to the computer and were shown to the jury.

On September 28, three days before April vanished, seven more images of her half-sister were viewed and 25 images of another local young girl.

On the day of April's alleged abduction, Mr Ray said Bridger accessed Facebook on several occasions and viewed 32 images of local girls.

Just after midday, the witness said, Bridger also looked an indecent cartoon image which had been saved on to the computer.

That afternoon, he sent Facebook messages to three different women inviting them to go "for a drink", the court heard.

Shortly before 5pm, a mobile internet dongle was used with the laptop.

The dongle was never recovered, the jury was told, and Mr Ray said it was not possible to establish what was being viewed on the laptop.

April was last seen at around 7pm on October 1, playing on a bicycle with her friend near their homes on Machynlleth's Bryn-Y-Gog estate.

Her body has never been found despite the biggest search operation in British policing history.

The prosecution say Bridger, a former slaughterhouse worker, snatched and murdered the schoolgirl.

He says he accidentally killed her when he ran her over and accepts that he must have got rid of her body but cannot remember how he did it because he was drunk.

Earlier, the public gallery was cleared as the jury was shown some of the images found on Bridger's laptop.

Mr Ray said there were a total of 100 to 150 indecent images on the computer, 65 of which he considered to be of a "criminal standard".

He also told the jury that on June 8, police found evidence of internet searches "naked five year old girls" at 1.15am and, at 1.20am, "pictures of naked virgin teens".

He said two indecent images were saved onto the laptop at around the same time.

The photographs of Soham victims Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were among a number of images described as "real life crime".

Also found were pictures of Caroline Dickinson, a British 13-year-old who was murdered in France in July 1996; Jessica Lunsford, a nine-year-old murdered in Florida, the United States, in 2005; and Esra Akyuz, a six-year-old Turkish girl who was murdered in 2001.

Bridger, wearing a blue shirt and tie and round glasses, followed today's proceedings from the dock and occasionally moved towards the glass through which he gave instructions to his solicitor.

Crime scene investigator Melanie Barlow was tasked with forensic searches of a wood burning fireplace in the living room at Bridger's cottage, Mount Pleasant.

She said she noticed that areas of the fire had been "cleaned up".

She said: "I noted an area of wiping down or cleaning up around the fire which was not consistent with the area as a whole and stood out to me."

She said smears on the glass in the fire were, "caused by using a cloth or something to wipe down the glass".

Under cross examination by Brendan Kelly QC, defending Bridger, she conceded that written notes mentioning the clean up were only made last Friday - after she looked again at photographs she had taken of the scene.

Mr Kelly said: "This is guess work rather than scientific analysis."

The witness replied: "It is my opinion that that is how it appeared."

In a statement read to the jury by Miss Evans, Mark Ford, the owner of Bridger's rented cottage, said the defendant moved into Mount Pleasant on August 25 last year after viewing the property with his then partner and four children.

Mr Ford said he and Bridger agreed a rent of £450 a month and the cottage was thoroughly cleaned before the defendant moved in.

He said he gave the cottage to Bridger in a condition "such as I would be happy to move in myself".

The trial was adjourned until 10am tomorrow when the jury will be taken to view Bridger's Land Rover Discovery.

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