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Cardiff Local Guide
30 May 2013
Those who met Mark Bridger recalled him being obsessed with the military.
Mark Bridger is an evil and manipulative individual who clearly likes to be in control. He has committed the most horrific of crimes – the abduction and murder of a young, vulnerable girl. He appears to be somebody who is a fantasist.
That is the summation of Bridger – convicted of murdering five-year-old April Jones – by Det Supt Andrew John, the detective charged with solving her abduction and death.
Minutes after luring April from outside her family home in Machynlleth, Powys, on 1 October 2012, his actions sparked the biggest missing person hunt in British policing history.
But the man at the centre of the storm remained largely a mystery until his true nature was laid bare during the five-week murder trial at Mold Crown Court.
Forensic criminal psychologist Mike Berry: “Bridger is playing a power game”
Bridger, 47, arrived at the mid-Wales town some 20 years before the events of that fateful autumn night.
He was born on 6 November 1965 in Sutton, Surrey, the second of three children, and grew into a strong man, described as of “very big build” and over 6ft tall.
Accounts from people with whom he worked in Machynlleth variously described him as “sociable”, “hard-working” and “charismatic”.
Others remarked on his apparent obsession with the military, and his claims to be a former army bomb disposal expert who had changed his identity to protect himself from IRA retaliation, and a serving member of the SAS.
Indeed, when interviewed by police over April’s disappearance he told them how he had “excelled” during his military service.
But that was complete fantasy. Bridger had never joined the army.
In fact, far from having a distinguished military career, the court was told that as a teenager Bridger had been in trouble with the police.
Later, senior detectives pointed out he did not have the criminal past they would have expected from a predatory paedophile.
David Wilson a Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University, says despite Bridger’s criminal past, he does not fit the typical profile of a predatory paedophile.
“Usually when I deal with people who are predatory paedophiles who have abducted children, I’m dealing with someone whose record wouldn’t be about seven offences but it would be about 70 offences, dating back to their childhood, dating back to their teenage years. They will have had long periods of time in young offender institutions and in prisons. I don’t have that with Mark Bridger.”
Detective Superintendent Andrew John, the officer in charge of the investigation, admits the lack of previous convictions for sexual assault makes Mark Bridger unique, and it could mean a new chapter has to be written in the books of criminal psychology.
“You would have expected to have seen some previous offending and that would have given an idea of the escalation. In this case that hasn’t been the case.
“So, on that basis this case will now inform the future research I guess. It is the first time I have ever come across an individual such as Mark Bridger, and I hope that I don’t have to come across anybody of the same make-up again.”
He had pleaded guilty to offences including possession of a firearm, having an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offence and theft when he was about 19.
In the early 1990s, he was also convicted of criminal damage, affray and driving with no insurance.
In 1984, when he was 20, he became a firefighter in London. Within six months, he had quit due to “personal problems”.
He told the jury how it was around the time he had split up with his partner, soon after the birth of their son.
It was at this point that Bridger turned his attentions to Wales. He knew south Wales because his grandmother lived there.
“I had bought some camping equipment and survival equipment. I lived on the beach for a couple of months,” he told the court.
He said he lived in places including Porthmadog, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Bala in Gwynedd, where he had a variety of jobs, including bar work, being a chef, a waiter, a car recovery mechanic and a forestry worker.
Mark Bridger’s house
Forensic searches of Bridger’s cottage found bone and blood remains
After living in several locations, he finally settled in Machynlleth – a small town of some 2,100 people.
Once there he worked in a variety of jobs – kitchen assistant in a local hotel, as a welder and helping to renovate a local guest house, lifeguard and more latterly a slaughterman in an abattoir.
This knowledge of how to handle knives was brought up in evidence when the jury heard in the prosecution’s opening speech that a number of knives were found near a wood burner in his home in Ceinws, with bloodstains containing April’s DNA nearby.
Prosecuting counsel Elwen Evans QC said: “The defendant was an experienced slaughterman who knew how to use knives professionally.”
Away from work, Bridger’s personal life was complicated.
He had six children with a number of women and just days before he murdered April, he had split with his latest girlfriend and was upset about it.
He claimed he had turned to drink after relationship break-ups and had been on anti-depressants on and off for 12 years.
The attention of women was clearly important to Bridger as his trial was told that hours before he took April, he contacted three other women via Facebook asking if they wanted to meet, “no strings attached”.
April’s head teacher, Gwenfair Glyn, provided an insight into the relationships he formed when she gave evidence at his trial.
She told how he had had a history of relationships with young mothers and there were “complex relationships between a number of these families”.
She had spoken to Bridger at a parents’ evening just a couple of hours before he took April, where she had seen him talking to a former pupil now in secondary school, which she found “strange”.
Mark Bridger’s former friend Anwen Morris explains how he was well known.
Describing his character, Ms Glyn told the murder trial: “Mr Bridger was always confident, courteous and charming. He often appeared charismatic, even.”
It matched the view of others who had found him sociable and outgoing.
Even April’s father, Paul Jones, had remembered him as a “pleasant bloke”. The two knew one another in the early 1990s when they had dated sisters. He remembered Bridger as a “risk-taker” who “drove like a maniac”.
He told how he had loaned Bridger a book on SAS survival skills which he would not return, claiming to have lost it. Mr Jones later found it during a visit to Bridger’s house and took it back.
But it was only when police seized Bridger’s computer that the sordid, hidden nature of the man was revealed.
He had computer folders filled with images of child sex abuse, graphic depictions of rape, and pictures of previous young murder victims, including Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, both 10, from Soham, and 13-year-old Caroline Dickinson who was raped and murdered in a French hostel during a school trip.
April JonesA seven-month search for the remains of April was called off the end of last month
Among his collection were dozens of pictures taken from social media of local young girls, including April and her older half-sisters, one of whom he had asked to become his Facebook friend despite not knowing her personally.
April’s mother Coral had warned her not to accept.
As Bridger’s behaviour in the hours before April’s abduction became more predatory, the court heard how he made an approach to a 10-year-old girl, playing near to where April was last seen.
He invited her to a sleepover with his daughter but no arrangements were finalised.
Not long afterwards, April’s mother, Coral, made her frantic 999 call.
Bridger claimed he was drunk and could not recall where he had left April’s body
Shock that Bridger, a seemingly courteous and charming man, was responsible has resonated throughout the community.
From the close-knit community of just 2,100 people, the sense of betrayal from the wolf hiding in open view in their midst has been profound.
As Ms Morris sees it: “It’s not somebody that came from the outside. It’s somebody that lived amongst us that has taken one of ours.”