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Julia James murder trial day one: Callum Wheeler admits killing PCSO in Snowdown near Canterbury but denies murder


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A beloved PCSO was "chased down" by her killer and bludgeoned "again and again" with a metal pole, a court has heard.

Details of the alleged circumstances surrounding Julia James' death in Snowdown, near Canterbury, were revealed on day one of the trial of Callum Wheeler.

The court heard:

  • Alleged murderer 'waited in woods for someone to attack' before 'ambushing' PCSO with railway jack, prosecution claims
  • Data from victim's smart watch reveals her final movements before she was struck 'again and again', jury told
  • Victim 'spotted killer near her home' in months leading up to attack, describing him as a 'weird' man, it is claimed
  • Defendant allegedly 'returned to crime scene with murder weapon in days following attack', possibly to 'goad' police

At shortly after noon today, a packed courtroom in Canterbury fell silent as prosecutor Alison Morgan rose to her feet.

The barrister was to relay what she alleges were the last moments of the life of Julia James, a much-loved PCSO found dead on a remote footpath in Snowdown, on the city's outskirts.

"The evidence suggests that her attacker was waiting in the woods for someone to attack and then ambushed her," she told the jury.

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

"Julia tried to escape her attacker but was subjected to a brutal and fatal attack."

Ms Morgan told how the man suspected of Julia's murder - 22-year-old Callum Wheeler - now accepts responsibility for causing her death in the early afternoon of April 27 last year.

But he denies the offence of murder, with a jury set to decide the case following a trial expected to last four weeks.

Dozens of journalists in the public gallery, and members of Julia's family, watched on as Ms Morgan outlined the prosecution's version of events.

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

'Ambushed and chased down'

Ms Morgan said 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."

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.

Julia James loved her job as a PCSO (56525532)
Julia James loved her job as a PCSO (56525532)

'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.

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.

KMTV reports on the first day of the case

“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.

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

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..."

“Her last heart rate was recorded at 2.43pm."

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

'Playing games'

Jurors were shown dashcam footage from gamekeeper Gavin Tucker, who the day after Julia's death stopped and quizzed Wheeler on the junction connecting Pond Lane with Adisham Road.

Following a verbal exchange, Wheeler could be seen running off towards Adisham Road carrying a bag with an item protruding from it covered by a Tesco carrier bag.

The image, with the bag and alleged weapon cropped out, was circulated via the media, which contributed to Wheeler being identified, the court heard.

"What was he doing running in and out of hedges, running away from Mr Tucker?" the prosecutor said, adding he was "playing games".

"The defendant 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."

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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