Dr Liz Yardley

Dr Liz Yardley

By Dr Liz Yardley, Deputy Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology

Today the jury in the April Jones case returned a guilty verdict upon the defendant, Mark Bridger. This comes almost 8 months after April disappeared on 1 October 2012.

Bridger is something of a mystery to us as criminologists – much has been made of the images of child sexual abuse, rape, and pictures of previous young murder victims found on his computer. However, there was nothing in Bridger’s background to suggest that he was a prolific paedophile. Absolutely no clues whatsoever. Usually when looking at paedophilia, we see a gradual escalation of offending behaviour from the teenage years, which may start with the collection of indecent images, lead on to behaviour such as stalking, indecent exposure, rape and sexual assault – but murder is a long time coming. Whilst Bridger did have previous convictions, they were for different types of offence altogether – assault, affray, possession of a firearm. So whilst his lack of a documented history of sexual offences does not necessarily mean that he did not commit such offences, it is very odd indeed that nothing of this nature has come to light. April’s abduction and murder literally appeared to come out of nowhere.

So what about all the questions that we still have, most notably, ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’. Only one person knows the answer to this and that person is Bridger. Will he ever answer these questions? I would like to think so for the sake of April’s family, but I suspect not.

Bridger is someone who likes to be in control. In withholding information about what really went on, he holds onto a sliver of power and will be very reluctant to give that up. Throughout the trial he has played games with the court and April’s family – ‘I probably did kill her’, ‘I probably did run her down’, almost taunting them with titbits. He is still holding onto the facts, keeping them up his sleeve. To this end he is no different from other murderers who have withheld information about their crimes, most notably Moors Murderer Ian Brady and ‘Crossbow Cannibal’ Stephen Griffiths. Possessing information that others want provides these offenders with a trump card, which is increasingly useful for the ‘celebrity murderer’ who courts the press and wants to remain in the public eye – the prospect of revealing this information has the potential to re-activate the media circus of the arrest and trial where the murderer was centre stage.

Bridger is a fantasist – one who grossly exaggerated some aspects of his life and simply fabricated others, telling tales about time served in the army (untrue), the death of his parents (untrue), his job as a fire fighter (partially true) and a lifeguard (partially true). He slept his way around the local community, seeking out female attention to validate his dubious ‘masculinity’. But the cracks were starting to show – in recent years people had become wise to both his reputation and his lies. He wasn’t taken particularly seriously by his contemporaries and people were probably making fun of his ludicrous and grandiose sense of self.

In continuing to conceal the facts, Bridger secures for himself a captive audience that can be summoned at the drop of a hat and a degree of the notoriety he has always craved. However, such hubris will not serve him well as he embarks upon what is likely to be a lengthy if not whole life prison sentence. He is entering an environment where his label as a murderous paedophile secures him a different kind of attention; fantasy is about to be replaced with cold harsh reality.

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Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Dr Elizabeth Yardley

Reader in Criminology and Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.