Suspect 'not in a position' to help in search for April Jones
THE MAN arrested for questioning about the disappearance of five-year-old April Jones near her home on Monday evening has told police he is “not in a position” to help with the search, which now covers 20 separate locations outside the Mid-Wales town of Machynlleth.
April’s distraught mother Coral Smith yesterday broke down in tears when she appeared before a police-organised press conference. “It’s been 36 hours since April was taken from us. There must be someone out there who knows where she is and can help the police find her,” she said.
Yesterday police officially named the local man arrested as Mark Bridger, and released a picture of him. They urged the public to come forward with any information about his movements on Monday. “If you did [see him], please don’t assume that somebody else has contacted us,” said Det Supt Reg Bevan.
Mr Bridger is a former soldier who has had a number of partners. He has two daughters who live in Machynlleth’s Bryn-y-Gog estate, where the five-year-old went missing on Monday, just minutes after she had returned with her mother and sister from a parent-teacher meeting at the local primary school.
His daughters live just 200 yards from April Jones’s home, and two of his former partners also live live on the estate. “He could have gone to the house at any time to visit his daughters. I’ve seen his Land Rover there. The girls, including April, all play out on the green together and go around on the bikes. I’ve seen them here quite often,” local man Glen Lewis told The Guardian.
One of Mr Bridger’s children, Scott Williams, who has taken part in the search for April since it began, last night said he had only met his father “on a couple of occasions” in a local pub.
“He has never been in my life. But it was a shock when we heard it on the news that he was arrested.”
Having left the British army in the mid-1990s, Mr Bridger – who separated recently from a woman with whom he is understood to have had several children – has had a variety of jobs in mid-Wales. For a time he worked as a welder and a mechanic, and was also a slaughterman in a local abattoir.
Mr Bridger was arrested by police on Tuesday afternoon as he walked outside Machynlleth. His Land Rover Discovery – which he had sent to the garage for repair that afternoon – was located shortly afterwards.
Police had begun to look for him from Monday evening, it emerged yesterday. So far he has been questioned twice by detectives.
Police received 400 calls yesterday afternoon alone from the public, offering information. Twenty separate locations, including houses, outbuildings, open ground and stretches of the bank of the River Dyfi – which is heavily flooded – have been searched though at one point local volunteers were stood down because of the dangers involved.
One hundred highly-trained mountain rescue volunteers, along with 100 police and 20 dog handlers were involved in the search for the little girl throughout yesterday. Members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution were drafted in along with kayakers, who were tied to the riverbank with ropes, as they searched the river’s floor.
Insp Ian John said: “We really do need to manage the risk of everybody there, not only the police officers, the mountain rescue team, but we are extremely concerned about large numbers of members of the public going into what I have said are very challenging conditions.
“So what I am asking really is, notwithstanding the great support and the commitment that people want to show in helping us to find April, can we please leave this now to the trained and skilled people that we have? I don’t want those officers to be distracted by the well-intentioned and enthusiastic support.”
Det Supt Bevan said the leads being investigated were being regarded as “significant”, but they were still inquiring into the information received yesterday.
“This is a growing operation and in no way are we scaling back our search and we remain completely focused and committed to finding April,” he said.
Local mayor Cllr Gareth Jones told reporters that he hoped the town could recover from this trauma. “I hope we can get back to the ideal way we’ve been living our lives,” he said.
“I hope this incident doesn’t change that. Machynlleth is a wonderful place with fantastic people. There is trust in this community and I don’t want that to be broken.”