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Looking for April

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Mark Hutchings | 16:42 UK time, Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Teddy Bear on railings

Driving back from a meeting in Salford, I had a dilemma. How best to explain the likely repercussions of the Welsh draft budget to the 5live Breakfast audience. I stopped off at the Cardiff newsroom late at night to print off some material. Within minutes, I was reading the first copy on the disappearance of a little girl.

Her name and picture were already being tweeted, but the first official line was this -
"Dyfed Powys Police is appealing for witnesses following an incident in Machynlleth this evening where a five-year-old child has gone missing. Anyone with more information has been asked to contact the police."

By the following morning's Breakfast programme, I wasn't explaining the Welsh Government's fiscal priorities. Instead, I was stood outside a school in Machnylleth, speaking to parents who were dropping off their children before setting out to look for April.

On the Bryn-y-Gog estate, one grandmother told me how all the children there were encouraged to play together on the green spaces. A bike with a pink basket was propped up outside one house - the home of April Jones.

The huge search effort grew by the hour and then by the day. As well as the experts, all of Machynlleth seemed to be taking part, along with people from far and wide - from London, Oldham, Barry. A retired fire-fighter who took part in the 9/11 salvage operation came over from his new home in Ireland to try to help. I saw a group of psychics who wanted to pass on their thoughts to the police.

Market stall-holders packed up early. One explained how he hadn't slept all night, worrying if he was doing the correct thing by coming. Sales dried up in the local sweet shop. Parents felt it didn't seem "right" to treat their children, while one of the town's children was missing.

I interviewed one exhausted search volunteer who said, "Every night my daughter asks me if I've found her. I say, 'No. But maybe someone else has'." He then paused before being able to carry on the interview. And I met another father and daughter. He was spending every day searching the countryside. She, a schoolmate of April, was making pink ribbons in class. She said she was doing so "...for April. And for hope."

That hope was all but extinguished when police confirmed that Mark Bridger had been arrested on suspicion of murder. Yet within a short time, many search volunteers had rallied again, insisting that until anything was certain, they wouldn't give up.

After the first court appearance, came another show of unity. I counted at least 200 lanterns set off from the Bryn-y-Gog estate. The first, released by April's parents Coral and Paul, soared ahead of the rest into the night sky.

Along with my colleagues Ben Bland and Andrew Fletcher, I worked long hours in often appalling weather. The torrential rain played havoc with much of the broadcast equipment, threatening to take us off air.

But our problems were insignificant. We were hopefully passing on useful information. Hundreds of others were out in all weathers searching for a little girl called April. And they still are.

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