FORMER abattoir worker Mark Bridger has admitted that he was "probably responsible" for the death of missing five-year-old April Jones, but denied murdering her and disposing of her body.
The 47-year-old pleaded not guilty to abduction, murder and perverting the course of justice, when he appeared at Mold Crown Court in Wales yesterday. But with April's parents Coral and Paul, sitting just yards away, Bridger's barrister explained his client's defence would involve him "conceding that he probably killed the child".
April was last seen playing on her bicycle close to her home on the Bryn-y-Gog estate in Machynlleth, mid-Wales on the evening of October 1 last year.
Bridger, who lived close by was arrested the following day, but April's body was never located and the search continues.
He was subsequently charged with abducting and murdering April, and of unlawfully disposing of and concealing her body with intent to pervert the course of justice.
It was the first time April's parents had come face to face with their former neighbour, since he was charged with their daughter's murder.
Mr Jones (43) wore a pink ribbon in memory of his daughter while Mrs Jones wore a pink-flowered dress.
Both stared intently at Bridger, and Mrs Jones's hands shook as she sipped from a glass of water as the charge of murder was read out.
The defendant, with short, cropped hair and a goatee beard, stood with his arms behind his back, and he 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 final not guilty plea.
The judge, Mr Justice Griffith-Williams rejected the defence application for the trial to be moved and ordered that it take place at Mold Crown Court starting on February 25. It is expected to last four weeks.
He also said it could be reported that Bridger's case was that he was "probably responsible" for April's death.
The court heard that during the trial the jury would be taken to the spot where April was last seen alive.
The case sparked an outpouring of support for April's parents, with hundreds of people joining in the search for their daughter and offering assistance.
Despite huge resources being employed to find the little girl's remains, they have not yet been located.
Dyfed-Powys Police resumed the search earlier this month during a short break for Christmas. As the hearing was concluded, Mr Justice Griffith Williams told the dock officers surrounding Bridger: "Take him down."
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 volunteer army stepped up to take part in her search. Just before Christmas, April's parents made an emotional plea over the missing five-year-old, who suffered from cerebral palsy.
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. (© Daily Telegraph, London)