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Julia James murder trial: Replica 'murder weapon' shown to jury in Callum Wheeler trial


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A pathologist has told a murder trial the injuries suffered by a PCSO bludgeoned to death on a dog walk were "the worst I have seen" and "completely unsurvivable".

Details of the alleged circumstances surrounding Julia James' death in Snowdown, near Canterbury, on April 27 last year have been revealed during the first few days of the trial, which began at Canterbury Crown Court on Monday.

Callum Wheeler, 22, has admitted killing the PCSO, but maintains it was not murder.

Today, defence barrister Oliver Blunt QC told the judge there will be no evidence offered on behalf of Wheeler.

The prosecution will offer its closing speech tomorrow before the judge sums up. The jury will then retire to consider its verdict.

Earlier, the jury heard from Dr Olaf Biedrzycki, who carried out the post-mortem at Ashford mortuary on April 28, and concluded Julia’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the back of the head.

The prosecution asked if Julia was “otherwise well and normal”.

“Yes,” he replied. “She had catastrophic head and brain injuries, including numerous full thickness lacerations of the scalp,” he explained.

“(The weapon) must have been something heavy,” he went on. “If I were to attack you with a piece of balsa wood, for example, it wouldn’t damage the scalp.”

Dr Biedrzycki called Julia’s head injuries “very serious” and “completely unsurvivable”.

Julia James. Picture: Kent Police
Julia James. Picture: Kent Police

Using computer generated images to aid jurors, the doctor described how Julia suffered “extensive fracturing” to the top, side and base of skull.

He added the severity of Julia’s brain injuries indicated there was “no doubt she was unconscious after the first blow”.

She suffered a fractured nose and left eye-socket, alongside numerous relatively minor facial injuries, the court heard.

Dr Biedrzycki deemed all of those injuries were likely caused by being attacked from behind.

Julia was found with no defensive injuries to her hands or arms, he noted.

A fracture to Julia’s left wrist was caused by “falling onto an outstretched hand” to break a fall, he added.

When the judge Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubba asked how many blows Julia sustained, Dr Biedrzycki explained: “It would be just a very rough estimate.

“It’s not one or two. Whether it’s eight, nine, 12, 15, 16 - I really don’t know.”

Jury handles replica weapon

This morning, the jury handled a replica of the alleged murder weapon used to kill Julia.

An imitation of the railway jack handle he wielded on April 27 last year was circulated among jurors.

The 12-strong panel could be seen passing along the implement, which measures close to one metre and weighs almost half-a-stone.

The prosecution alleges Wheeler "chased down" Julia before bludgeoning her "again and again" with a pole weighing almost half-a-stone.

A pathologist giving evidence this afternoon described Julia's injuries as "the worst I have seen".

The alleged murder weapon - the handle of a jack typically used to lift parts of the railway - measures 96.6cm, and weighed more than 3kg, says the prosecutor Alison Morgan QC.

The alleged murder weapon. Picture: Kent Police
The alleged murder weapon. Picture: Kent Police
A CCTV image showing Wheeler in Roger's Close, carrying what is said to be the murder weapon, near his home in Aylesham the day after Julia was killed. Picture: Kent Police
A CCTV image showing Wheeler in Roger's Close, carrying what is said to be the murder weapon, near his home in Aylesham the day after Julia was killed. Picture: Kent Police

A replica of the pole was this morning brought into the courtroom, and shown to jurors.

Police officers are said to have found the railway jack inside Wheeler’s bedroom wrapped when they carried out a search of his home.

It was wrapped in plastic bags, says the prosecution, and Julia’s blood was found upon it in various places, along with Wheeler’s DNA.

Jurors view footage from arrest

Bodyworn police footage played to jurors this morning showed the dramatic moment officers burst into Wheeler's bedroom and arrested him, with the jack handle visibly propped against the bedroom wall.

PC Ben Redpath has told the jury that when officers went to arrest Wheeler, he had barricaded himself inside his bedroom, and a "loud banging" was emitting from inside.

He told how he and other officers forced their way into the room and arrested Wheeler.

"There was some banging coming from inside the bedroom - it was very loud, very aggressive," he told jurors.

The defendant repeatedly protested his innocence and made death threats towards the police, the court heard.

As Wheeler was booked into custody at Maidstone Police Station he said: "Sometimes I do things I cannot control," PC Redpath told jurors.

In the coming days CSI investigators would seize the jack handle from Wheeler's home, alongside items of clothing that allegedly matched those Wheeler wore on the day Julia was killed.

A Tesco carrier bag was discovered inside a blue and black duffle bag, with a maroon plastic bag and laptop also recovered.

A blue-and-black duffle bag that was seized from Wheeler's home when it was searched. Picture: Kent Police
A blue-and-black duffle bag that was seized from Wheeler's home when it was searched. Picture: Kent Police

This afternoon Gavin Moss, senior investigating officer in the case, told of the scale of the investigation which involved 1,100 police officers and members of staff.

He said 5,000 members of the public were spoken with across 2,500 homes.

The manhunt also included 534 downloads of CCTV footage, containing 6,700 hours of material, used to identify Wheeler and determine his movements after Julia's death.

The force would identify Wheeler by May 7, with a strong police presence maintained for 33 days after Julia's body was found.

Wearing a dark suit jacket, Wheeler, flanked by four officials and one dock officer, could be seen hunched forward with his head bowed throughout the proceedings.

Court artist sketch of Callum Wheeler appearing at Canterbury Crown Court (Elizabeth Cook/PA)
Court artist sketch of Callum Wheeler appearing at Canterbury Crown Court (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Today is the fourth day of his trial at Canterbury Crown Court, which is expected to last four weeks.

Yesterday, jurors were shown bodycam footage of the moment PCSO Emma Carmichael came across Julia’s body, face down and hood up, lying beside Ackholt Wood in the hamlet of Snowdown on April 27 last year.

Julia had been walking her beloved Jack Russell, Toby, in the countryside behind her home when she was killed.

A family walking near Ackholt Wood - approximately 400m from Julia's home - discovered her body on a path beside a field and called 999.

Footage seen by the jury and members of Julia's family in court yesterday showed PCSO Carmichael approaching Julia.

As the officer touched her back, she could be heard saying: “Hello, can you hear me?”, while repeating “hello?”.

PCSO Carmichael could then be heard speaking on her police radio: “I don’t reckon this female is alive, but I don’t want to touch her any more, because I think this is suspicious.”

'Ambushed and chased down'

How the prosecution believes Julia's final moments unfolded have been laid out to the jury.

Ms Morgan alleges Wheeler "waited for Julia James or another vulnerable female to be in that woods"

"He waited to ambush her, he chased her down," she told the jury.

"She ran, desperate to get away from her attacker.

“Unable to outrun him, he struck her. She fell to the ground, she broke her wrist, then when she was face down on the ground he struck her again and again and again. She had no chance of survival."

Callum Wheeler arriving at court at a previous hearing. Picture: BBC
Callum Wheeler arriving at court at a previous hearing. Picture: BBC

Ms Morgan told jurors Julia was walking to the personally significant ‘butterfly corner’, on the cusp of woodland on that fateful day.

Shortly before, Wheeler, carrying a railway jack protruding from his bag, was recorded on CCTV leaving his Sunshine Corner Avenue home.

He was filmed approaching a gap in the hedge leading to Adisham Road, with the weapon cloaked with a white carrier bag.

Only minutes before, Wheeler’s mobile phone was disconnected from its network, explained prosecutor Alison Morgan QC.

'Waiting in the woods'

The court heard how mother-of-two Julia “must have seen her attacker waiting in the woods”, armed.

“Julia ran to save herself, along the side of her path," she said.

PCSO Julia James
PCSO Julia James

She was chased by her attacker,” the prosecutor continued: “It is likely that she fell as she ran - either from the first blow from her attacker or by tripping - leading to her left wrist being fractured.”

She argued Julia, while bleeding, moved a short distance as she lay face down.

“In her final position, she was then struck repeatedly - while she was face down on the ground with her hood up,” she said.

“Julia James died extremely rapidly given the severity of the incapacitating blows which she received.”

Wheeler tried concealing an area of blood with recently torn grass, while Julia’s glasses - which she dropped during the chase - were discovered 50 metres away, the prosecutor alleged.

It is unclear how long Wheeler spent at the scene, Ms Morgan explained, but he was allegedly spotted in Spinney Lane carrying a bulky rucksack heading back towards Aylesham shortly after 3pm.

Dashcam footage also captured Wheeler returning home with the weapon concealed in a blue and black holdall.

A family taking a walk through Ackholt Woods would soon discover Julia’s body.

The Gillies family noticed a small dog with its lead attached but no owner, the court heard.

“The dog was Julia James’ dog Toby, who had remained in the vicinity after the attack on her," Ms Morgan said.

“They looked around the area for the owner of the dog and saw Julia James’ body lying on the ground.

“After receiving no response to their calls to her, they called 999,” Ms Morgan said.

A post-mortem examination by pathologist Dr Olaf Biedrzycki revealed Julia died after suffering devastating blunt force trauma to her head.

It was ruled the severity of Julia’s injuries to the back of her head likely killed her instantaneously.

Julia's final moments

The court heard Julia’s Apple Watch chartered her last moments along the bridleway, with her walking pace and heart rate spiking suddenly.

“She took a sudden detour out from the wooded area, along the side of a field and as she did, she dropped her glasses," Ms Morgan told the jury.

“Her heart rate escalated dramatically from 97 to 145 bpm and then dropped off - there was no further movement after 2.35pm."

"Julia James died extremely rapidly given the severity of the incapacitating blows which she received..."

A number of witnesses had seen Wheeler, who lived with his father, walking in the area during the months leading up to the attack, jurors heard.

And he had been “roaming around the area near to Ackholt Wood” with the weapon, 24 hours before attacking Julia,” Ms Morgan explained.

Wheeler had familiarised himself with the woods in April 2021, even having come face to face with Julia, the prosecutor added.

Flowers left in Aylesham for Julia James on the day of her funeral
Flowers left in Aylesham for Julia James on the day of her funeral

'Strange male roaming the area'

Ms James had previously been "aware of the presence of a strange male" during a walk and described him to husband Paul James as a "really weird dude", she added.

She later pointed the man out to Mr James during a walk together about two months before her death.

Mr James would later create an e-fit of the male he saw.

“The image created has a striking similarity to the defendant," Ms Morgan said.

“Paul James would then go on to identify the defendant as the male seen in the woods at an identification procedure.

"The defendant went out the next day carrying the weapon, why he did that is known only to him.

"It could be that he was goading the police who were in the vicinity, or it could be that he was looking for somewhere to dispose of the weapon," the prosecutor said.

Police officers searching in Aylesham as part of the Julia James murder investigation. Picture: UKNiP
Police officers searching in Aylesham as part of the Julia James murder investigation. Picture: UKNiP

The photo that helped trace a killer

Wheeler was photographed less than a mile from the crime scene, the day after Julia was killed.

Local farmer Gavin Tucker - whose land includes Ackholt Wood - spotted Wheeler in Pond Lane, Aylesham, on the afternoon of April 28, and took both dashcam footage and a clear photo of him.

The image shows Wheeler carrying a black-and-blue holdall, which the prosecution says contained a “metal bar covered at one end with the Tesco carrier bag”.

In the dashcam footage - which was played before the jury - Mr Tucker challenges Wheeler, asking “what are you up to?” before

Wheeler runs away towards Aylesham.

It was not the first time Mr Tucker had encountered him.

The photo taken by Gavin Tucker the day after Julia's murder shows Wheeler in countryside between Aylesham and Snowdown, carrying what is alleged to be the weapon. Picture: Kent Police
The photo taken by Gavin Tucker the day after Julia's murder shows Wheeler in countryside between Aylesham and Snowdown, carrying what is alleged to be the weapon. Picture: Kent Police

On September 21, 2020 - seven months before Julia’s death - he had come across Wheeler on his land and challenged him on two occasions.

Giving evidence to the court yesterday, he said: “The way he came across to me...I just didn’t like the way it was.”

He told how he found Wheeler’s behaviour on April 28 “suspicious”, and took a photo of him which he handed to police.

“There’s a suspicious fella and he’s running off, and there’s been a death down at Ackholt,” he told the operator, in a recording played to the court.

On May 7 last year, the photo Mr Tucker took was circulated by police as part of a press appeal, prompting further witnesses to come forward.

Police officers searching in Aylesham as part of the Julia James murder investigation. Picture: UKNiP
Police officers searching in Aylesham as part of the Julia James murder investigation. Picture: UKNiP

Addressing the jury, Ms Morgan said: "What was he doing running in and out of hedges, running away from Mr Tucker?"

She alleged that in the days after killing Julia, Wheeler "continued to tour around the local area, sometimes carrying his bag and sometimes carrying what the prosecution alleges to be the murder weapon".

"He kept a check on the police cordon, he ran away from police officers and concerned members of the public, such as Mr Tucker," she added.

The court heard Wheeler was arrested at his home on May 7, with the weapon in the corner of his bedroom.

Wheeler went on to deny the killing and asserted someone had "ratted on him", jurors were told.

Julia James
Julia James

Forensic evidence

Wheeler's DNA was soon discovered on Julia's blue coat, green boots, white vest, and on skin underneath an arm.

Julia's blood was found on both of Wheeler's trainers while the weapon, used to make adjustments to railway tracks, also contained his DNA.

Various areas of the 96cm metal bar, weighing 3kg, contained Julia's blood, as well as Wheeler's own DNA.

Ms Morgan told the jury he hit her with it in such a way that he intended to kill her.

"The key question for the offence of murder in this trial is whether or not when he attacked Julia James, the defendant intended to kill her or cause her at least really serious harm. The prosecution will invite you to conclude that it is clear and obvious that he did."

The trial continues.

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