MARK Bridger gave the impression of being a sociable, outgoing member of the Machynlleth community, remembered as a “pleasant bloke” by Paul Jones – one of many people who befriended him in the Welsh town.
But beneath the facade the 47-year-old presented to the world lay a web of fantasies and dark desires which would ultimately lead him to sexually abuse and murder Mr Jones’ daughter, April, before disposing of her body.
Under questioning by police, and in court, he continued to evade, stacking lie upon lie as he tried to cover his tracks. He repeatedly wept in court as he painted himself as a man who had “accidentally” run over a child and then panicked before blacking out due to alcohol.
The truth, though, is that Bridger was a paedophile obsessed with underage girls and child murder who, it would emerge, had acted on his base impulses.
A drifter who moved from job to job and from one failed relationship to another, Bridger was raised in south-west London, the middle child of a police officer who planned to follow his father into the emergency services.
Aged just 19, his life was in the kind of turmoil that would come to define it. He had split up with his girlfriend who had just had a baby. His parents could not get access to their new grandchild, which caused a rift from which the family was never to recover.
Bridger headed to Wales, leaving his old life behind. He had nothing but his camping equipment and spent a few months living on the beach and moving from town to town before getting a room in a B&B in Porthmadog.
While in Wales, he took on a variety of jobs as a barman, mechanic, CCTV installer, chef and labourer. The CV he created in his head was markedly different. Bridger claimed to have worked as a mercenary in Angola and Belize, having been trained by a SAS unit in Burma. The truth, however, was that the only weapon he used in his work was a knife, used to bone and skin animals during a stint as a slaughterman in an abattoir.
His personal life was no less erratic. Bridger had at least six children by four different women.
But in a town of just 2,100 people, he was well known, and liked by many. In court, April’s headteacher, Gwenfair Glyn, described him as a “charming” man.
He was known to the Jones family. Bridger met April’s father when the two men dated sisters. Bridger also played in the same darts team as April’s mother, Coral.
“I think that April Jones happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and as a result was abducted,” said Detective Superintendent Andy John, who led the hunt for April’s killer.
Just days before he murdered April, Bridger had split with his latest girlfriend, Vicky Fenner, and was upset about it. In the hours before the abduction, his behaviour became increasingly wayward. He contacted three other women via Facebook asking if they wanted to meet, “no strings attached”. Mold Crown Court also heard that close to the time April’s mother made her frantic 999 call, Bridger had approached a ten-year-old girl, inviting her to a sleepover with his daughter.
Despite yesterday’s conviction and sentencing, experts believe it could take years to get Bridger to disclose exactly what he did to April.
Unlike other predatory paedophiles, he did not have a significant criminal past, with no previous convictions for sexual offences.
His first conviction came at the age of 19, for which he received two years’ probation.
Then, he pleaded guilty to the attempted taking of a car, possession of a firearm, having an imitation firearm, theft and two counts of obtaining property by deception.
In 1991, he pleaded guilty at Aberystwth Magistrates’ Court to criminal damage, affray and having no insurance, arising out of a “road rage” incident when he hit the bonnet of another driver’s car with his hand.
The following year he was convicted for driving while disqualified and without insurance.
Serena Simmons, a senior psychology lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, said that unpicking the complex web of lies spun by the calculating child killer will be far from easy for prison psychiatrists.
But she said: “He clearly is deluded and has a distorted view of the world.
“He certainly displays this mentality of ‘if I keep stalling then eventually things will blow over’. But that is far from the case.”