Jury retires in PCSO murder trial

Callum Wheeler, 22, from Aylesham in Kent has admitted killing Julia James on April 27 last year but denies murder.

Margaret Davis
Monday 16 May 2022 15:35
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Callum Wheeler, 21, appearing at Canterbury Crown Court where he is accused with the murder of police community support officer Julia James. The 53-year-old PCSO was found dead in Akholt Wood near her home in Snowdown, Kent, on April 27. Picture date: Monday May 9, 2022.
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Callum Wheeler, 21, appearing at Canterbury Crown Court where he is accused with the murder of police community support officer Julia James. The 53-year-old PCSO was found dead in Akholt Wood near her home in Snowdown, Kent, on April 27. Picture date: Monday May 9, 2022.

The jury in the trial of a 22-year-old man accused of murdering a police community support officer has retired to consider its verdict.

Callum Wheeler from Aylesham in Kent has admitted killing Julia James on April 27 last year but denies murder.

The 53-year-old was beaten to death as she walked her Jack Russell dog Toby in the countryside near her home in Snowdown, Kent.

In closing speeches on Monday at Canterbury Crown Court, prosecutor Alison Morgan QC told the court: “This defendant was an angry, violent, strange, highly sexualised man.

“There is no mental health defence available to him.”

Julia James was found dead in Akholt Wood near her home in Kent (Family/PA)

Prosecutors alleged that Wheeler waited in Ackholt Wood near Aylesham on April 27 last year and intended to kill a lone woman when he got the chance.

He had been seen in that location a number of times before and had walked around the area carrying the railway jack that he ultimately used as a weapon.

The jury of eight women and four men heard that Wheeler “hit her head repeatedly” and “intended to cause her at least really serious harm”.

Ms Morgan said: “The attack on Julia James was not a momentary and spontaneous act of violence by this defendant.” She told jurors he planned the attack “over many days and weeks”.

She added: “He knew those woods, members of the jury. He knew that people walked dogs in those woods, he knew that if he waited for the right moment there would be a lone female when nobody else was around, when he could commit this attack.”

Wheeler denies murder but has admitted killing Mrs James.

Ms Morgan told the jury what he intended was “clear and obvious”.

She told the jury: “Before, during and after this brutal attack there is the clearest possible evidence of what this defendant intended.”

The route taken by Mrs James on her final walk was mapped using data from her smart watch. (Kent Police/PA)

Ms Morgan said that when Mrs James saw Wheeler she “ran for her life to get away from him”, adding: “No doubt as fast as she possibly could, wearing wellingtons, caught by surprise, her heart rate surging.”

She told jurors it was an attack “involving stages”, the defendant allegedly handling her body before “repeated blows to her head”.

Mrs James had some of the most serious head injuries ever seen by the pathologist involved in the case, Ms Morgan said.

The prosecutor said there was not just one blow but “it was again and again and again”.

“How could he have intended anything else but to cause her at least really serious harm?” she added.

Wheeler had searched for pornography and the term rape on his computer in the days before the killing, the jury heard.

In the moments after Mrs James’s death, Wheeler began thinking about how to cover it up, the court was told.

“In those moments after he had killed Julia James the defendant was present and thinking, and thinking about covering up the blood that he could see next to her head, and he was thinking about how he could get away from the scene, how he could cover up the weapon.”

The railway jack was wrapped in plastic bags soon after Mrs James’s death, the court heard.

Callum Wheeler is appearing at Canterbury Crown Court where he is accused with the murder of police community support officer Julia James (Gavin Tucker/PA)

Mrs Morgan told the jury that Wheeler began “game-playing” in the days after the attack, running away when challenged by local gamekeeper Gavin Tucker and when spotted in a field by a police officer. He also searched for news articles about the investigation.

On arrest, Wheeler exposed himself to female officers and tried to masturbate in front of them, telling one member of staff that Mrs James “deserved to die”, the court heard.

He also said that he would go back to the woods and rape and kill a woman, it was claimed.

For the defence, Oliver Blunt QC told the jury that through his not guilty plea to murder Wheeler effectively said he did not have the “level of intent required”.

Mr Blunt QC said: “He was 21 at the time and had no previous convictions or cautions recorded against him.”

He told the court that Wheeler’s behaviour before and after the killing did not make sense, and that the railway jack was unwieldy and difficult to conceal as a weapon.

Describing the attack, Mr Blunt said: “This appears to be a completely motiveless, random, senseless, inexplicable incident.”

He told the jury that they must decide: “Did Mr Wheeler have the clarity of purpose on April 27 to form the intent to kill or do serious harm, or was it simply a question of doing some harm at the very least?”

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