Published: 11:18, 07 May 2021
| Updated: 23:24, 07 May 2021
Police chiefs believe identifying a man photographed close to the scene of the murder of PCSO Julia James is "key" to cracking the case.
Kent Police press conference on PCSO murder probe
Assistant Chief Constable Tom Richards said at a press conference this afternoon that detectives think the man has information "crucial to the invesitgation".
The senior officer said: "We have been able to release a photograph today of a man that I think is key to unlocking what happened to Julia.
"The man was in a very relevant location the following day and I have reason to think he has evidence or information which is crucial to the investigation.
"We now have more than 1,000 pieces of information provided to us by the public.
"Many names have featured in the inquiry, but this individual is a big frustration to the investigation because we don't know he is.
"Somebody knows who that man is. We desperately need you to make contact with us.
"It's vital that we speak to that individual."
Anyone who recognises the man in the photo is urged to contact Kent Police on 0800 0514 526.
Witnesses and anyone with any other information, CCTV or dashcam footage are also still being asked to submit details online here.
ACC Richards added: "We’re still waiting for that critical phone call or piece of information to help solve this investigation.
"We have a large team of specialist detectives working on this case but there is someone somewhere who knows this man in the picture, or who knows something about the day Julia died.
"I urge them to do the right thing and get in touch. We will handle your call with the utmost confidence and sensitivity."
The image has been released just a day after Crimestoppers put up a £10,000 reward for any information leading to the conviction of Julia's killer.
She had been out walking her beloved Jack Russell, but was discovered dead by members of the public at about 4pm, by woodland just 400m from her home.
A post-mortem later found she had suffered "significant" head injuries.
Hundreds of police officers have since been hunting Julia's killer, and have been scouring the countryside around Snowdown for evidence.
This morning, an inquest into her death was opened at County Hall in Maidstone, but quickly suspended at the request of a detective inspector.
The court was only told that Julia died of "serious head injuries", but that more tests will be carried out before an official cause of death is submitted.
Inquests are fact-finding inquiries presided over by a coroner. They are typically held regarding unnatural or violent deaths, where the cause of a death is unknown, or when a death takes place in state detention such as a prison.
A coroner’s investigation is different to a criminal investigation.
The coroner’s investigation chiefly seeks to establish who has died, and how, when, and where the death took place.
Police do not yet have any motive or suspects in mind for the brutal killing, which is described as the "number one priority" for the county's force.
They have not ruled out the possibility that it may have been a random attack.
Officers are appealing for anyone who was in the area around the time of Julia's death to get in touch.
They have released a photo of Julia wearing what she is believed to have been wearing when she was killed, in hope of sparking a memory from anyone who may have seen her that day.
In a press briefing earlier this week, Kent Police's Assistant Chief Constable Tom Richards said officers have been "investigating relentlessly", but described the investigation as "hugely challenging".
"I would like to thank particularly the residents of Snowdown and Aylesham who have been massively supportive and patient with the investigation," he said.
"They've provided over 700 pieces of information to the investigation team. That is so important to piece everything together that happened at that time."
ACC Richards continued: "We have no motives for this attack and we don't know whether this was done by somebody Julia knew or whether this was a stranger attack, which would be particularly frightening to local residents.
"We are also trying to establish the route the offender took to reach the location and leave it."
ACC Richards also said that hundreds of officers were involved in the investigation and it was expected they would be at the scene for weeks.
He added: "The family are being very brave and courageous during an incredibly difficult time.
"We will make absolutely every effort to solve this. This is the number one priority for Kent Police."
He added that this case was not linked to other offences, making it a more difficult investigation.
He said there was no suspect in mind at present and said: "This also makes it a hugely challenging investigation as we usually have a suspect early on. But we are keeping an open mind."
He said police were trying to confirm whether the killer had come on foot, by private vehicle or by public transport.
Watch ACC Richards speak at a press conference in Folkestone on Wednesday
Julia had been alone at home last Tuesday, when she went to take her dog, Toby, for a walk.
Her body was discovered at about 4pm last Tuesday by members of the public, and a post-mortem later confirmed she had died of "significant" head injuries.
Officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate have also released images of part of the crime scene, about which they are keen to receive more information.
In particular, detectives would like to speak to anyone who was within the area defined by the red lines in the map between 1pm and 4.30pm last Tuesday (April 27).
That area is contained by boundaries of the pathways of Spinney Lane to the North, Aylesham Road to the East, Holt Street to the South and Pond Lane to the West.
Officers are continuing to carry out house-to-house enquiries across Snowdown and the neighbouring village of Aylesham, in their search for information.
On Tuesday, one week after Julia was killed, officers conducted road checks in the area which saw them stop and speak to almost 450 drivers in a six-hour period.
ACC Richards added: "Inquiries continue at pace, as does our very visible presence in the Aylesham and Snowdown areas.
"Whilst we will not be telling people what they can and can’t do, we are urging people to be vigilant and to be aware of their surroundings. Work is still underway to establish the motive for Julia’s killing and we’re keen people stay and feel safe."
With Julia's killer yet to be apprehended, Snowdown and Aylesham residents have expressed concerns over their safety.
They advise people to carry a charged mobile phone when out and about, to plan their route, and to inform someone else of where they are going and how long they will be.
Those with information are urged to contact Kent Police on 0800 0514 526. Anyone with video footage can submit it online here.
* The image of the man police wished to speak to was removed from this article after he was identified by detectives.