April Jones: Former lifeguard ‘probably responsible’ for death of missing girl but denies murder
FORMER lifeguard Mark Bridger is "probably responsible" for the death of five-year-old April Jones but denies her abduction and murder, a court heard today.
Bridger, of Mount Pleasant farmhouse in the village of Ceinws, near Machynlleth, will stand trial later this year accused of murdering April, who went missing in mid Wales last year.
April was last seen playing out on her bike on Machynlleth's Bryn-y-Gog estate, where she lived, on the evening of October 1.
Bridger was arrested the following day, but the search for April's body goes on.
Bridger entered not guilty pleas to abduction, murder and perverting the course of justice at Mold Crown Court.
But Brendan Kelly, defending, told the court his client's defence involves him "conceding that he probably killed the child".
Mr Justice Griffith-Williams said: "That matter can be reported. You have indicated that the defendant's case is that he was probably responsible for the death of April."
The judge ordered that no other evidence in the case can be reported.
April's parents Coral and Paul Jones were in court today as Bridger, 46, entered his not guilty pleas.
The case sparked an outpouring of support for April's family, with hundreds of people joining the search.
April's parents were led into the court before Bridger was brought up.
Mrs Jones, wearing a black cardigan, pink T-shirt and black trousers, and Mr Jones, wearing a salmon pink shirt, sat to the side of the dock, just 10ft away from Bridger.
The defendant, with short cropped hair and goatee beard, was then brought in and confirmed his name to the court.
Both parents stared at Bridger as the charges were read to him.
Bridger stood, his arms behind his back, and looked forward as he entered not guilty pleas to abducting and murdering April and a further charge of perverting the course of public justice.
At one point Bridger, wearing a navy blue jumper with a pair of spectacles tucked into his collar, appeared to be making an effort to compose himself as he entered his pleas and looked up towards the ceiling as he entered his final not guilty plea.
At one point during the hearing, Mrs Jones wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue.
Mr Justice Griffith-Williams refused an application from the defence to move the trial out of the north Wales area.
Mr Kelly said the defendant was of the belief that his right to a fair trial "would be better served elsewhere".
But the judge said Mold Crown Court was an appropriate venue for the trial and that he was satisfied the jury system was "more than sufficient" to address any concerns about prejudice to the defendant.
The trial, which is estimated would take around four weeks, was listed to begin on February 25.
Mr Kelly also said this was an "unusually grave" offence and that the defence were "mindful of the family's position".
He added that the case had resulted in a "noticeable degree of ill feeling towards the defendant" which was one of the reasons why they had applied for the trial to be moved out of north Wales.
As the hearing was concluded, Mr Justice Griffith Williams ordered the dock officers surrounding Bridger: "Take him down."
Mrs Jones shook her head as the defendant was led back into custody.
On the day she went missing Mr and Mrs Jones had allowed April to play out late as a treat after she received a glowing school report at a parents' evening.
Her disappearance triggered a wave of community solidarity as a huge volunteer army stepped up to take part in her search.
In a brief heart-rending message issued on Facebook, they stated: "We just want you home for Christmas."
The message continued: "11 weeks now my baby April been missing... we just want you home for christmas.
"its so hard you not here running around asking how long before father christmas is coming + you trying to open your present + try and help us wrap presents for family + friends.. please come home."
The message coincided with the posting of a poignant new photograph of a smiling April standing in front of a Christmas tree.
Massive efforts to find her body somewhere in the rugged terrain around the town have continued unabated.
The spiralling cost of the continued hunt for her, comprising thousands of man hours, is set to come in at as much as £2.4m.
Dyfed Powys Police has vowed to carry on the search for April despite taking a two-week break over the festive period.
In December Superintendent Ian John, who is heading the search, said it will continue on the same scale and with equal numbers into the new year.
Dyfed Powys Police has confirmed that it lodged an application for a special grant to cover the exceptional expense of the ongoing search.
The Home Office has agreed to grant the force the money it needs, up to £2.4 million, subject to it being scrutinised in detail.