Saturday 24 March 2018

Police get more time to question April Jones murder suspect

Benjamin Wright and Antony Stone

POLICE have been given extra time to question Mark Bridger after revealing he is now being held on suspicion of murdering five-year-old April Jones.

The 46-year-old was originally arrested on suspicion of abducting April.

But detectives made the grim announcement today that he was now being held on suspicion of the schoolgirl's murder.

Several hours later, former leisure centre worker Bridger was driven to Aberystwyth Magistrates' Court in a secure van, where an application was made for a further warrant of detention, giving police until tomorrow afternoon before they will have to charge or release him.

The latest developments came as April's shell-shocked parents Paul, 43, and Coral, 40, issued three new photographs of their cherished daughter.

Following his brief appearance before magistrates, Bridger was flanked by two officers as he was escorted back into Aberystwyth Police Station with a blue sheet over his head.

April was seen willingly getting into a 4x4-style vehicle on the Bryn-y-Gog estate in the town of Machynlleth at 7pm on Monday.

Bridger was initially arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of abduction.

The one-time lifeguard was picked up on a main road not far from the river Dyfi - with his blue Land Rover Discovery found at a nearby repair garage.

As search teams began a fifth day of scouring the rugged terrain around the town police announced the grim news indicating they were working on the assumption that April was dead.

Detective Superintendent Reg Bevan told a press conference in Aberystwyth: "Mark Bridger has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of April Jones.

"The arrest does not detract from our efforts to find April and we remain committed to finding her.

"Her family has been informed of this development and, as you would expect, they continue to be supported by a family liaison officer."

Looking tired and drawn, and sporting a pink ribbon to show his support for April's family - he renewed an appeal for information regarding Mr Bridger's movements.

He said: "While this is a significant development in the investigation, I once again appeal to the public for information which may help us find April.

"We are looking to trace the movements of Mark Bridger between 6.30pm on Monday and 3.30pm on Tuesday and any sightings of him between these times.

"We also need information regarding the movements of the blue Land Rover Discovery, registration L503 MEP, between these times."

Another key area of the investigation has been the river Dyfi - which today saw the deployment of a small sonar vessel.

It is able to locate objects underwater and was seen skimming along waters two miles to the north of Machynlleth earlier today.

Teams of sniffer-dogs, RNLI crews and mountain rescue experts have also been carrying out searches.

However, police have ruled out a role for members of the public - who had previously helped in the early stages of April's disappearance.

Superintendent Ian John acknowledged again that volunteer searchers had played a "vital part".

However, he said things have changed with the announcement that Mr Bridger is now being held on suspicion of murder.

He said: "We want to acknowledge, and are extremely grateful for, the efforts of the community volunteers who have supported the professional searchers in trying to locate her.

"They have been a vital part of our team throughout this search operation. Quite frankly, their commitment has been an inspiration to us all.

"But the dynamics of the search have now changed and due to the passage of time and the developments within the investigation it is no longer appropriate for us to expect untrained members of the public to continue the search.

"So now we only require professional searchers to be involved in the ongoing search, which continues in and around Machynlleth."

Another key location has been a farmhouse in the small village of Ceinws, to which Mr Bridger is believed to have moved about six weeks ago.

But police have said that forensics alone will not solve the case - and are urging people to help them fill gaps in their knowledge.

As well as asking for sightings of Mr Bridger, they also want to hear from people who may have had contact with him - either via phone, text message or social media sites.

News the search for April is now a murder investigation was greeted with despondency.

A community known for its warm-hearted openness to strangers is now increasingly less willing to talk.

Tourists Di and Bob Brown, of Rustington, West Sussex, have been regular visitors to the area for more than two decades.

They put their holiday on hold this week and joined the hunt for April before hopes of finding her alive dimmed.

Mrs Brown said they have a timeshare property nearby and know the area well as a result.

"This is absolutely heart-wrenching news and desperately sad for the family," she said.

"This is a beautiful area and we come for the mountains and waterfalls and countryside which is nothing like where we are from.

"We have been to church today to sign the book of condolences.

"We have such happy memories of our time here but we shall go home with very heavy hearts."

In the meantime, many residents across North and Mid Wales have continued to wear or put up pink ribbons for April in response to an appeal from her family.

The heartfelt symbol of hope has also been adopted by the youngster's schoolfriends at Ysgol Gynradd Machynlleth, which is round the corner from where she lives with her mother, Coral, 40, father, Paul, 43, 16-year-old sister, Jasmine, and older brother, Harley.

And users of social networking sites have also begun to change their display pictures to feature a pink ribbon in a show of solidarity.

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