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PCSO Julia James told her husband she had seen a “really strange” man in the woods months before she was ambushed and allegedly beaten to death, a court heard today.
Callum Wheeler, 22, admitted killing the 53-year-old Kent Police officer in Akholt Wood, about 400 yards from her home in Snowdown, Kent, on April 27 last year, but she denies the killing. .
A post-mortem examination revealed the mother-of-two had sustained significant head injuries, which prosecutors say were inflicted by a metal jack found in Wheeler’s home.
The “brutal and fatal” attack sparked a widespread manhunt for her killer, with hundreds of police officers spending weeks scouring the grounds surrounding the rural village of Snowdown.
Canterbury Crown Court heard today that Wheeler, from Aylesham in Kent, accepts that he killed her but denies killing her.
Prosecutors alleged that PCSO had seen Wheeler several times at Ackholt Wood in the months before her death.
Mrs James “was aware of the presence of a strange man”, whom she described to her husband, Paul James, as a “really strange guy”, Alison Morgan QC told the court.
The jury heard that the mother of two later pointed out the man, allegedly Wheeler, to Mr. James during a walk together in February 2021, about two months before her death.
Police body video footage of an encounter between officers and Wheeler when he dialed 999 on April 17, 10 days before Ms. James died, was then played in court.
Jurors then viewed police body video footage of an encounter between the officers and Wheeler when he dialed 999 on April 17, 10 days before Ms. James died.
Ms. Morgan told the jury: “She did not give a coherent reason for calling the police and did not invite the police officers onto her property.”
Footage showed Wheeler telling officers “Get lost, dude” and “I’m not talking to you,” before being assured by his father that he was okay.
Court Artist Sketch by Elizabeth Cook from Callum Wheeler, May 13, 2021
Mrs Morgan said: “You may think that the footage from this visit shows that the accused is behaving strangely” and she told the court that he had been reluctant to have “any meaningful conversation with the police”.
The prosecutor told the jury: ‘The evidence suggests that her attacker was waiting in the woods for someone to attack her and then ambushed her. Julia tried to escape from her attacker but was subjected to a brutal and fatal attack. She suffered catastrophic injuries and died where she fell.
She continued: ‘A heavy blunt object was used to kill Julia James and when we come to consider her injuries she will understand why it must have been such an object that killed her.
“In fact, the prosecution alleges, and there may now be no dispute, that the gun was a large railroad jack.”
Mrs Morgan added: “That item was found in her bedroom.”
Prosecutors allege that Wheeler was seen wandering the area 24 hours before Mrs. James’s death with the cat.
A man named Neil McMahon saw a man walking along the edge of Spinney Lane towards Aylesham carrying a long blue bag with a shiny object sticking out of it on the afternoon of 26 April.
Mrs. Morgan said, if it is correct that the object was the railway jack: “It means that the defendant was wandering around this area armed with that metal bar 24 hours before he attacked Julia James.”
Forensic officers at an address in Aylesham, Kent, 8th May 2021
She then took the jury through what prosecutors claim were Wheeler’s movements on the day of Ms. James’s death.
She said it is the prosecution’s case “that there is a great deal of evidence from a variety of sources that shows that the attacker was this defendant Callum Wheeler.”
She told the court: “Although he denied responsibility for the murder for some time, he now accepts that he was the person who killed Julia James, however, he does not accept that he is guilty of the crime of murder.”
Several members of Ms. James’s family attended court to hear the prosecution open the case.
Ms James’s body was found next to a wood in the Aylesham Road area at around 4pm. by members of the public, with her Jack Russell dog, Toby, uninjured at her side.
He had been a police community support officer since 2008 and worked in the domestic violence unit at Canterbury Police Station.
His death caused great pain in the community that he diligently served for many years.
Mrs James’s family praised her as “fiercely loyal” and someone she “loved with all her heart”.
In May last year, more than 100 walks were held around the world to remember the mother of two, including many in her home county of Kent.
Callum Wheeler Quick and Facts
- PCSO Julia James was found dead near home in Snowdown, Kent in April 2021
- Post-mortem found mother-of-two, 53, suffered significant head injuries
- Callum Wheeler, 22, admits killing Mrs James but denies murdering her