Published: 12:55, 28 April 2021
| Updated: 20:19, 28 April 2021
A murder investigation is underway after Julia James, a serving PCSO, was found dead in suspicious circumstances in a quiet hamlet.
Emergency services were called to Ackholt Wood near Aylesham Road in Snowdown, between Canterbury and Dover, yesterday afternoon after the body of a woman was discovered nearby.
Forensics teams were seen in the area this morning, while a stretch of the route was closed between the junctions of Spinney Lane and The Crescent.
Detectives have confirmed she is 53-year-old mother-of-two Mrs James and are treating her death as a murder.
This evening, Home Secretary Priti Patel is among those to offer condolences to Mrs James' family.
She tweeted: "So saddened to hear of the death of @kent_police PCSO Julia James. I offer my sincere condolences to Julia’s friends, family and colleagues at this awful time."
And Kent's assistant chief constable Peter Ayling posted: "Some shattered people today following the loss of one of our own. Support in place and extensive investigation but a tough day for many. Thoughts with all who knew & loved Julia, RIP."
The investigation into Mrs James' death continues this evening, with a large number of officers remaining in Snowdown.
Assistant chief constable Tom Richards said: "Officers are carrying out a number of lines of enquiry to establish the circumstances and people in the Snowdown area will see an increased police presence as a result.
"It saddens me to confirm that the victim was a serving PCSO for Kent Police and while there is a full and thorough investigation underway our thoughts also remain with her family, friends and colleagues.
"It is vitally important that anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something suspicious gets in touch with us.
"We’re particularly keen to speak to those who regularly visit the area who may have seen something out of place and those who drove by who have dashcam footage.
"We would advise anyone in the area to remain vigilant until the full circumstances of the death are established."
No arrests have been made, but detectives are conducting inquiries to establish the circumstances. They previously confirmed her death was being treated as suspicious but it has since been upgraded to a murder inquiry.
Mrs James, who lived in The Crescent, Snowdown, became a PCSO in 2007.
A neighbour today said: "She was warm and friendly, had a great sense of humour an loved dogs. She was just a lovely person.
"We were going to arrange a drink after the pandemic when the weather got nice but sadly that chance has been taken from us.
"It's quite unnerving to know that's happened in a sleepy hamlet. It makes your blood run cold."
Leah Southwell, 18, added: "She was one of the most lovely people I ever met. When I saw her out she would speak for hours.
"My thoughts go out to the family I feel absolutely heartbroken for them."
Before joining the force, Mrs James worked for Kent County Council in a learning resource centre but wanted to get out and about more.
After becoming a PCSO for Tenterden in 2013, she said: “I am a people person and love being in the community. The people in Tenterden are very friendly.”
Ben Sandowe, 23, said: "I was a bit of a troubled child and had her round my house a few times telling my mum what I had done.
"She would always look out for everyone and was very friendly. She was always looking out for people and was a really, really nice lady.
"Aylesham has a reputation that people don't like the police but they let her in."
She has two children – a daughter who also works for the police and a 23-year-old son.
In 2010 she and a colleague were commended for their bravery and chasing down a man suspected of shoplifting in Ashford shopping centre.
They stopped the powerfully-built suspect, searched him and recovered goods valued at £200.
Investigators were seen guarding a field alongside the Aylesham Road, through which runs a footpath in the direction of Aylesham, this morning.
Several more fields in the area were also sealed off with one officer saying it was a "very big crime scene".
An aerial image from the scene appears to show a police tent set up next to floodlights in a nearby field.
Speaking to KentOnline earlier Susan Deary, who has lived in Aylesham Road for 37 years, expressed her concern.
"It's very small here. There is only about 50 houses and most people know everybody," she said.
"It's very unnerving, we don't know who she is or how she got there."
Ms Southwell earlier added: "This area is normally very quiet and it is a bit weird that things are happening here, you normally walk across fields and you can't see anyone for miles, it is so peaceful.
"It was so weird to wake up to loads of blue flashing lights.
"Once in a blue moon you will see a police car patrolling this area."
Officers are keen to speak to anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something unusual or suspicious. They are urged to contact Kent Police on 0800 0514526. Anyone with video footage can submit it online by clicking here.
Police officers in the area