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Bridger 'invited girl for sleepover moments before April disappeared'

Mark Bridger, the man accused of abducting and murdering April Jones, invited a primary school-aged girl to a ‘sleepover’ at his house shortly before he took the missing five-year-old, a court heard today.

Mold Crown Court heard that DNA belonging to April was found inside the trousers of Bridger, 47.

After his arrest, he told police he had struck her with his car and could not remember where he had put her.

When police visited Bridger’s home, during the hunt for April, it smelt strongly of detergent, washed clothes and air freshener, the court heard.

On the day April went missing, Bridger went to his daughter's school for parents evening and stayed for around 20 minutes, Elwen Evans QC, prosecuting, said.

"Shortly after leaving the school in his vehicle, he approached a couple of girls who were playing in the local area," the barrister went on.  She said the girls were aged eight and 10 and were riding their bicycles on the Bryn y Gog estate.

"He wound the window down and there was a discussion during which the defendant invited one of the girls to a sleepover with his daughter," Miss Evans told the jury. "She declined and he drove off."

The next witness to see Bridger told police she saw the defendant's car pull up next to garages on the estate.

Miss Evans said: "April was seen playing nearby.

"The timing of this sighting of the defendant indicates that the events surrounding the abduction, as we say it was, happened quickly."

Ten minutes later the Land Rover Discovery was seen by another witness driving past Tuffin's petrol station and then on CCTV heading out of the estate.

Miss Evans said: "It is obvious that the defendant had driven out of town before the 999 call was made.

"Where did he go? Where did he take April?

"Of course, he says he doesn't know."

The next time his Land Rover was seen was at 8.30pm when a witness told police she saw it being reversed into his driveway. Shortly before midnight there was an exchange of text messages with Lesly Grimwood, a friend, where he said: "Good night, yes, benefits sorted I hope."

Ms Grimwood replied: "Good night hon, hope you're okay. Sweet dreams."

Miss Evans said: "Was that before or after April had died? Before or after her blood was deposited around the house? Before or after the body was disposed of?

"We don't know."

Turning to events in Machynlleth, where frantic searches for April were being carried out by her family and the local community, Miss Evans went on: "As night set in and there passed no news of April, panic and concern intensified.

"It is right that I make the point obvious that the focus of everyone who became involved in that search to find April was to find her safe and well.

"During that time the defendant took steps to carry out an extensive clean up to try to get rid of any evidence of April from his home."

The court heard that three witnesses saw Bridger carrying a black bin bag in a field near his home the morning after April's disappearance.

Miss Evans said: "We ask you, what was Mark Bridger doing at that location? What was in that black bin bag?"

The court heard that the land around that area was excavated but no trace of April was found.

Bridger later claimed that he was in the field because he had to stop to "go for a wee".

But Miss Evans said Bridger made up this story because he "needed to explain away a potentially suspicious sighting".

She said: "It was not the only time that this defendant tried to explain away potentially damaging evidence."

The court then heard a statement which Bridger made to police when he had been arrested in which he tried to give an "excuse" if they were to find April's DNA on his penis.

Miss Evans said Bridger told officers that "if there was any of April's DNA on his penis it might be there because he had been for a wee while carrying her".

Miss Evans then told the jury: "This is a man, we say, who is forensically aware. He knew how important it was from his point of view to try and get rid of any forensic scientific evidence linking him to April."

Miss Evans told the court that no DNA evidence was found in a swab taken from the defendant's penis.

She added that traces of April's DNA were in fact found "inside the front crotch area" of Bridger's tracksuit bottoms.

The court heard that when Bridger was arrested he told police: "I know what this about."

He then went on to give the arresting officers his account of what happened.

He said: "It was an accident. I crushed her with the car. I don't know where she is. As I was going to drive away two girls on bikes came across me.

"I then got out and saw a little girl lying under my car.

"I picked her up and put her in my car, which is left-hand drive, and put her on the front seat."

Miss Evans told the jury that Bridger carried on telling police officers his story as he was being driven to Aberystwyth Police Station.

He said: "I had been looking for her all night and did it on foot because my car is in the garage.

"I didn't abduct her. I did my best to revive her. I panicked.

"The more I drove through the night, the more pissed I got. My son and daughter play at her house. I didn't even know until this morning until I saw it on TV."

He continued: "I just wish I knew what I had done with her, where I have put her.

"I need to say sorry to her family. I can't believe I didn't just call an ambulance or the police.

"My intention was to head to the hospital. There was no life in her. No pulse. No breath. No response in her eyes. She was just on the seat. I tried to revive her.

"When my hands went on her chest I knew there was a lot more to it.

"I did my best to revive her. I don't remember having her in the car when I went back.

"I looked in all the rooms in my house...I wouldn't have dumped her. She is a human being. I wouldn't have done that."

He went on to say that the only place he had not checked "is down from my house".

"I really don't know where she is. I just want to know what I have done," he said.

"My car was making a hell of a noise. I remember looking through my rear window."I saw a little girl with dark hair. I then felt the car rise up and down.

He said when he looked there was a little girl "under the car".

He added: "She had gone a funny colour. She was only a little thing. I remember it being 5pm.

"I don't know what I was doing."

Miss Evans said that when police went into Bridger's home, half an hour before he was arrested, they did so searching for April.

She said: "When they went in there they stated that the house was uncomfortably hot, that there was a strong smell of detergent, and a smell of cleaning products, air freshener and washed clothes."

Miss Evans said "police registered these findings" but did not realise their significance at that time.

Miss Evans showed the jury pictures showing forensic analysis of Bridger's clothing, car and home.

Miss Evans said there was no evidence Bridger’s car had hit April, as he claimed.

Pointing to the car photographs, she said: "There is no evidence of a road collision, no evidence of blood here, torn fabric, or indication April Jones had been hit or run over.

"Nothing on the body work, the side, the wheels to suggest impact with a body or a bicycle."

She added: "Evidence points to April not coming to any harm in Bryn y Gog or in the car."

Inside Bridger's house, however, were found blood stains and fragments of bone, Miss Evans added.

Showing photographs of the living room, the barrister told the jury blood stains with a "one in a billion" match to April's DNA profile were found near the wood burning stove, on the carpet and on the sofa.

The trial continues.

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