POLICe investigating the suspected murder of April Jones must today charge or release their prime suspect, as hopes that the missing five-year-old would be found alive continued to recede.
Magistrates yesterday granted detectives a further 24 hours to question 46-year-old Mark Bridger, who had initially been arrested on suspicion of abducting the five-year-old, before being arrested on suspicion of her murder.
Officers have until 3.30pm today to make a decision over whether charge the one-time lifeguard, who, following his appearance at court, was flanked by two officers as he was escorted back into Aberystwyth Police Station with a blue sheet over his head.
Despite the significant developments in the inquiry yesterday, private prayers were being said in Machynlleth, mid Wales, last night that April would be found alive and police insisted the search effort would not be scaled back. Emergency services including the Coastguard, RNLI, RAF mountain rescue and 150 members of mountain rescue teams from across the UK continued the hunt.
Residents in Machynlleth said they were still hopeful of a positive outcome, as many wore pink ribbons – the youngster’s favourite colour – to symbolise hope.
The message was a demonstration of the close knit community’s support for April’s family, who have been devastated by her disappearance.
April was last seen getting into what is believed to have been a Land Rover Discovery of her own free will near her home on Monday evening.
She was playing on the Bryn-y-Gog estate, where she lives, as a treat for receiving a positive report at school.
Mother Coral Jones, 40, and her husband Paul Jones, 44, had attended the nearby primary school’s parents evening less than one hour before.
Mark Bridger, 46, who also has children at the school, was there around the same time as a parent, it was revealed yesterday.
His blue left hand drive Land Rover Discovery was seized by police after his arrest and is being forensically examined.
The arrest for murder signals a change in the chances of finding April, who suffers from cerebral palsy and needs medication, alive.
At a press conference yesterday Detective Superintendent Reg Bevan said: “Mark Bridger has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of April Jones.
“The arrest does not detract from our efforts to find April and we remain committed to finding her.
“Her family has been informed of this development and, as you would expect, they continue to be supported by a family liaison officer.”
However, some in the close community of Machynlleth still harboured hope of finding her alive.
One pensioner, who did not want to be named, said: “If the power of positive thinking could bring her back she would be here now.
“Privately, I’m still praying that she will be found alive. We’re waiting for a miracle in this town – but they sometimes do happen.”
That heartfelt hope looked an increasingly forlorn one as the efforts of an army of professional searchers continued.
Resources were clearly being focused on a relatively short expanse of the River Dyfi outside the town.
Murder suspect Mr Bridger was arrested two miles north of the town, walking not far from the river and wearing waterproof trousers.
The last place he is known to have been living, a further three miles away in the village of Ceinws, is also close to the Dyfi.
As the round-the-clock search continued into a fifth consecutive night, a specialist sonar vessel was brought in and used on a section of the river spanning both locations.
A team of kayakers was also focusing on that section of the river and teams of searchers wearing waders scoured the river banks.
Others walked in shallower parts of the river, plunging batons into the water as they went.
Superintendent Ian John said tonight: “Despite the developments of our investigation, our focus here remains on finding April and the search continues.”