April Jones trial: Mark Bridger describes how he 'knocked her over'

Mark Bridger was said to be emotional in court

A man accused of murdering five-year-old April Jones has told a court of the moment he says he accidentally knocked her over in his vehicle.

Mark Bridger, 47, of Ceinws, Powys, denies abducting and murdering April, who went missing near her Machynlleth home on 1 October 2012.

Mold Crown Court heard he saw April in front of him before "the car rose up".

He started giving evidence in his defence on Wednesday appearing emotional as he was sworn in.

April's disappearance sparked the biggest police search in UK history. She has never been found.

The prosecution claims he murdered April in a sexually motivated attack after abducting her as she played near her home on the Bryn-Y-Gog estate.

However Mr Bridger says he knocked her over in his Land Rover and cannot remember what he did with her body because he was drunk and panicked.

Mark Bridger's evidence

Mark Bridger spoke for the first time in court as he was sworn in, with April's parents, Paul and Coral sitting in the public gallery.

His voice broke as he took the oath and he had a drink of water and appeared to compose himself before entering his testimony.

He was wearing a light blue short-sleeved shirt with a clearly visible snake tattoo on his left forearm.

Mr Bridger stumbled over his words and he appeared emotional. He was told to speak loudly and clearly.

One security guard sat immediately next to the defendant, another at the entrance to the witness box.

Later on Wednesday, Mr Bridger was cross-examined by the prosecution.

Giving evidence on Wednesday, he said on 1 October he had parked on the Bryn-Y-Gog estate where April lived because he wanted to see his former partner.

He said he could not precisely say what time he had parked there but remembered seeing three girls.

Recalling the incident, his voice broke during his evidence, he said: "It was getting to the point where I was going to move off.

"I had had enough to drink... it was starting to get dark," he said.

He said he saw a girl "who I now know to be April" that "came in front of me". He added: "As I started to pull away there was a little pink bike... I never thought anything of it, I really thought the girl had dropped her bike... as I went to pull away the car rose up...."

He said he got out and he saw there "was a little person that was pushed up against the front wheel, my driver's wheel of the car".

During his evidence, April's mother Coral left the court room. She returned about 15 minutes later.

'Panicked'

He continued: "As I pulled her out she was limp... I picked her up and I had her head under my left arm, hand... I scooped her up and her arms were floppy... I don't remember talking to her."

He remembered checking for signs she was alive and tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

He told how he checked her eyes and "they were not with us" and "there was no reaction".

He described how shortly after he thought she was alive and put his hand on her chest but "there was something not right, it was just the wrong shape". "That's when I panicked," he said.

He said he did not remember a lot after giving his final "assessment" of April and his final mouth to mouth.

Start Quote

I didn't know it was April... I didn't know what to do then, I just didn't know what to do”

End Quote Mark Bridger

He eventually "headed out of town" but added: "I do not recall having April in the car... I don't recall a lot after that. I still do not recall having little April in my car."

Asked why April's blood was in his house, he said he did not know.

He said certain things had come back to him but most had not. He did not remember getting back to his cottage.

Asked whether he remembered anything else in the house, he said: "Again, the only thing that seems to be with me at that point is laying April down in the front room... but I don't know...."

He said it was something that had "come" in the last months.

At this point the judge intervened and asked whether this was a memory. Mr Bridger explained he could remember "laying her down on the carpet but whether that is actually what happened I don't know."

His barrister Brendan Kelly QC asked: "Is it a memory or is it something you think might have happened?"

He replied: "I believe it to be a memory."

Emotional

The court has previously been told April's blood was found at several locations in his home and there was evidence of a clean-up.

Asked whether he had any recollection of a clean up, he said: "I don't remember any clean-up but what I'd like to say is if that night there was blood dripped and blood in the bath where I have washed my jumper or... if I had seen it, I automatically would have wiped it."

Asked about suggestions of parts of a skeleton in the fire, he replied: "I don't believe I could do that, I really don't."

He said he found out the girl was April the following morning and appeared emotional as he described the shock of realising it was the little girl of a family he had known for 15 to 20 years.

April Jones April Jones went missing while playing near her home in Machynlleth on 1 October last year

He added: "I was shocked. I didn't know it was April... I didn't know what to do then, I just didn't know what to do."

Mr Bridger then went on to tell the jury what he had done the following day and says he took his car to the garage and got the bus back to Ceinws.

He said: "I needed to find April...or remember what had happened..."

He said he got wet weather gear, a stick, "and then I walked...."

Later, he was asked about receiving a text about his movements the night before.

Mr Bridger said: "I don't ever deny being involved with April's death.... I didn't run, I didn't hide, I didn't go anywhere. I didn't know what to do...."

He said he had planned on either going back to the house and waiting to be arrested or go to the police station.

Wiping his face and with his voice breaking, Mr Bridger said at that point he thought he would have been charged with "death by reckless driving" or "death by drink driving." "I didn't expect to be on a murder charge," he added.

Asked if he abducted April, he said: "No, there was no intention of abduction."

Asked if there was sexual abuse of April that night, he replied: "No, none at all."

Asked he deliberately killed April that night, he replied: "No, I didn't."

Earlier, he was asked if he had ever had a sexual interest in young children. He said: "No."

The jury heard earlier on Wednesday details about where he had lived and his various jobs.

He told his barrister he had had a short career with London Fire Service but quit after suffering personal problems.

He then moved to north Wales where lived in various locations.

He was asked about his claims of having a military career. He replied that he had made up the story after being asked about his background when he moved to Wales.

"I didn't want them to know that I'd had problems in my past... that's stuck with me until now," he said.

Criminal convictions

The jury heard how his past "problems" included criminal convictions. He had pleaded guilty to offences including possession of a firearm, having an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offence, theft and others. At the time he was about 19.

In the early 1990s, he was convicted of criminal damage, affray and driving with no insurance.

Asked if he had any convictions for sexual offences, he replied: "No."

Asked if he had offences for indecent imagery, he replied: "No, not at all."

Mr Kelly asked him about a time when he was dating a woman in Machynlleth. She had a sister who was also in a relationship.

Mark Bridger told the court about his alcohol problem and use of anti-depressants

Mr Bridger explained the sister was "with a chap called Paul". Mr Kelly said: "And Paul is Paul, the father of April Jones?" To this he nodded, appearing emotional.

The jury heard how he had had a complicated relationship history with different women and had six children with different women.

Mr Bridger agreed the relationship with the mother of his youngest two children was troubled. Police were called on one occasion which resulted in a conviction included battery before the relationship ended.

The court heard how his last conviction was in April 2007 after he pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He was sentenced to four months in prison which was suspended for 18 months.

Mr Bridger's alcohol problem was also discussed.

He said he had turned to drink after relationship break-ups but found it especially difficult after one particular split. From early 2010 to the day he was arrested he said he had been drinking heavily.

He went on to say he had been taking anti-depressants for 12 years on and off.

He said alcohol at times affected his memory and at times he had "problems remembering dates, times".

Mr Bridger then spoke about his Land Rover car and described how people sometimes had difficulty getting into his car because of its height and also told of problems with the doors and locks.

He said neither of his partner's young children would be able to get into the car, adding "you would physically have to pick them up".

The jury heard how Mr Bridger had a range of jobs including bar work, chef, waiter, car recovery mechanic and forestry worker.

Mark Bridger's Land Rover The jury has heard that Mark Bridger accidentally knocked April Jones over in his Land Rover

He has also told the court he was an outdoor pursuits instructor for a school in Machynlleth and was a lifeguard in Machynlleth for one season.

Asked about the abattoir where he worked, he was asked if he was "constantly cutting meat" to which he replied "no", adding he had "nothing to do with any knives" at first before moving to the part of the business which was more to do with testing meat.

The jury then heard about indecent cartoon images found on his computer.

He said he had kept them to complain to the companies responsible after coming across them accidentally while looking up "cartoon things" for his daughter.

He was also asked about Facebook pictures on his computer, including one of April with an older sister.

His voice broke as he said: "I didn't know at the time (who she was)."

He told the jury on 29 September, two days before April went missing he had gone for a mountain walk with two of his children.

On their return, he said he cooked a chicken in his woodburner.

"We cooked it and ate it and anything left over gets thrown in the fire. This has happened on a number of occasions," he said.

Drinking habits

The jury has previously been told how fragments of bone likely to have been from a child's skull were found in the woodburner.

Mr Bridger described how he would normally clean the glass of the fire "at least once a week" and cleared the ashes "every day or every night".

Coral and Paul Jones arriving at court on a previous day April Jones's parents Coral and Paul have attended court each day of Mark Bridger's trial

He was asked about his sex life with his ex-girlfriend and said he had erection problems which were "a lot" to do with alcohol.

He clarified what he had told police about his drinking habits during interview, saying he actually drank 16 to 25 cans of cider a day and a bottle to a bottle and a half of wine.

He said on certain occasions - such as when he was "really down" - he would buy vodka, including the day before April went missing.

He was also asked about his activity on Facebook on the day April disappeared including his viewing of a large number of pictures of a 14-year-old girl from the Machynlleth area.

He described how he had heard that one of his sons was in a relationship with a local girl and had got her pregnant.

He said he was looking at pictures of local girls to see if he could spot his son and work out who the girl was.

He was shown a Facebook-type picture of a young girl and said it was a picture of a friend's child which he had been sent by her parents.

Asked why he viewed a pornographic cartoon shortly afterwards, he said: "It's either to move it or it's been in the wrong folder and I have pushed it to somewhere else."

When questioned further about the image of the 14-year-old girl, Mr Bridger said he thought she might have been his daughter.

He was then asked about being at the parents' evening and said he had been drinking and was not sober at the time.

Later asked about inviting a girl to a sleepover, he said it was "quite a common thing".

Mr Bridger also denies intending to pervert the course of justice.

The case continues.

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