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April Jones's mother: I will forever live with guilt of letting her out

The mother of murdered schoolgirl April Jones has said she will forever live with the guilt of letting her five-year-old out to play the day she was killed by Mark Bridger.

Coral Joyce Jones wept in court today as Bridger was found guilty of April's abduction and murder and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

In a moving witness impact statement, she said the 47 year-old former slaughterman had taken away precious moments with her daughter as she would never see April smile again or bring home her first boyfriend.

Mrs Jones said she would never forget the night of 1st October 2012.

"This was the night that we allowed our daughter April to go out to play with her friends, something she has done hundreds of times before, and this is the night that she never came home," she said.

"Since that night, the estate is quiet, as the children are no longer allowed to go out to play as they used to.

"As April’s mother I will live with the guilt of letting her go out to play on the estate that night for the rest of my life."

The father-of-six was convicted following a month-long trial at Mold Crown Court in north Wales.

Bridger had admitted killing the schoolgirl, but claimed it had happened accidentally when he hit her with his car.

In summing up the case, Mr Justice Griffith Williams told Bridger: "The grief of April’s parents cannot be over-stated. They lived with the torment of a missing daughter, praying that she would be found alive and then, following your arrest, with the knowledge that you were providing the police with no assistance at all as to her whereabouts.

"To add to that torment, they have had to endure the spectacle of your hypocritical sympathy for their loss and of your tears, flowing not because of any regret for your crimes, but because of your enduring self pity."

He said Bridger would spend the rest of his life in jail.

Writing about her youngest daughter, who suffered from cerebral palsy, Mrs Jones said: "April ruled our lives. She was the youngest and because of her various disabilities we would have to provide some kind of care for her all the time.

"Paul would get her ready for school and then I would be there when she came home. I still cannot go into her bedroom to sort out her clothes, because the pain of her not being there is indescribable.

"How will we ever get over it?"

Bridger, who told the court he was drunk at the time, claimed he placed her body in his Land Rover and went for help, but then had no recollection of what he had done with the body.

But his story was rejected by the jury of nine women and three men who had listened intently throughout the often harrowing evidence and deliberated for just over four hours.

He was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice by disposing, concealing or destroying April's body.

He closed his eyes and bowed his head as the verdicts were read.

Mrs Jones and husband Paul were in court with other members of their family to hear the verdict. They appeared to wipe away tears as the guilty verdicts were announced.

The couple sat in the gallery for all 21 days of evidence, but Coral left in tears on a number of occasions.

Mr and Mrs Jones added: "We are relieved that Mark Bridger had today been found guilty of the murder of our beautiful daughter April, however we still do not know where she is and this will always be a very painful thing for us to deal with.

"April will be forever in our hearts, we are so moved by the overwhelming support we have had from so many people all over the world."

April went missing on the evening of October 1 last year as she played on her bicycle close to her home on the Bryn-y-Gog estate in Machynlleth.

Detectives quickly launched what became the biggest search in British police history, with specialist teams spending six months scouring an area spanning almost 40 square miles.

The investigation and search is estimated to have cost in excess of £8.5 million.

Despite the search the only trace of April’s remains that were ever located were tiny fragments of bone found in Bridger’s wood-burning stove and specks of her blood in his cottage.

He was arrested the day after she disappeared, telling police who detained him: “I know what it is about.”

The key witness in the prosecution case was April’s seven-year-old best friend, who was with her when she was abducted.

The little girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, calmly told police in a recorded interview how she had seen April get into Bridger’s left-hand drive blue Land Rover.

She was able to give police a startlingly accurate description of the vehicle and even told them she had seen Bridger’s children travelling in the car in the past.

During video-link cross examination by Bridger’s barrister Brendan Kelly QC, the schoolgirl, who was clutching a stuffed toy bear, firmly rejected suggestions that April could have been knocked down by Bridger.

She told the jury: “The man was waiting for someone, but I did not think it was April. The man was waiting outside I did not hear what they were saying but they were talking. After that she got into the van then they drove off the same way he came in to park."

She added: “I don't know why she wanted to go as her mum and dad told her not to get into cars. She got into the car, the man did not put her into the van.

“She was not crying, she was happy…She got in the van having a happy face. She was not upset.”

During the trial jurors heard how hundreds of indecent images including ones of child abuse were found on Bridger’s computer.

He also had pictures of April and her sisters stored on his laptop as well as images of the murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Prosecutor, Elwen Evans QC said Bridger had a “sexual interest” in children and said this had been the motivation for the attack.

Detective Superintendent Andy John, who led the investigation, described Bridger as “evil and manipulative”.

Police confirmed that they have considered closely all the children who Bridger had access to, including his own, but have found no evidence of wrongdoing so far.

They said they would continue to monitor the situation closely.