Bridger is being charged with abducting and murdering April Jones, 5, who went missing near her home in Wales seven days ago. The family friend is also charged with the unlawful disposal and concealment of Jones’s body with intent to pervert the course of justice.

As he stood up in court, Bridger, 46, is reported to have been tearful and he spoke only to confirm his name, age and address.

He will be remanded in custody before appearing at Caernarfon Crown Court on Wednesday.

April Jones disappeared a week ago. She was last seen playing with her friends near her home in Machynlleth and children reported seeing her get into what is believed to be a Land Rover Discovery, apparently without resistance.

In Jones’s home town there has been an outpouring of grief and support for the five-year-old’s mother. Hundreds gathered yesterday for a church service in remembrance of April.

Her mother, Coral, has refused to give up home that her child will be found alive. Writing on Facebook this weekend, she said: “April has still not been found, I am not giving up hope that she will come home, so please keep looking for my baby girl April, she’s our world, the whole family are in bits as we don’t know where she is.”

However today mountain rescue teams will be scaling back their search and handing over to police. Extra teams of officers have been brought in to continue the hunt for April’s body, bringing the number of police involved in the case up to more than 100.