Published: 12:05, 29 April 2021
| Updated: 21:28, 29 April 2021
Home Secretary Priti Patel has described the death of a PCSO as an "awful, awful murder".
Mum-of-two Julia James, 53, was found dead on a remote track near woodland in Snowdown on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking this afternoon, Ms Patel said: "First of all my thoughts are with Julia's family and friends. I was debriefed from the chief constables' call last night on this awful, awful murder.
"We've got to let Kent Police have the time and space to get on with their investigation.
"This is also Julia's home force so her colleagues and friends in the force will need much support as well right now too."
"We need to let the police get on and do their investigation."
In the Sky interview, she added: "This is tragic beyond words. Across the country and in policing we are all grieving for Julia."
People living in the quiet Kent hamlet where Mrs James was murdered say the shocking events have left them fearful for their safety.
She had last been seen leaving her house to take her Jack Russell for a walk, but was discovered lifeless on the bridle way near Ackholt Wood at about 4pm, her beloved dog by her side.
The cause of her death has not yet been made public, but police have launched a murder enquiry and urged the public to remain vigilant.
Dozens of police vehicles and officers remain at the scene, but local residents are still on high alert.
Mary Bosson, a cousin of Mrs James' mum, says everyone is scared to take their dogs for a walk.
"It is worrying," she said. "We all walk our dogs around that area. I have a pregnant granddaughter and she walks her two dogs around there.
"She was there Monday and Tuesday, on her own. We don't know if it was random or what. We won't be doing it now until we find out."
Mrs James lived in The Crescent, where a field - popular with dog walkers - at the end of the road was taped off by police this morning.
Dorothy Morgan has lived around the corner in South Avenue for 25 years, and says Mrs James went to St Joseph's Catholic School with her daughter.
"It's so chilling," she said. "She was a really nice girl. I just can't believe it. We seldom walk about, but I've seen more people walking around in twos. Quite a lot of people have dogs here."
Another mum, who also lives in South Avenue, told KentOnline she won't walk her dog along the track where Mrs James was found.
"I used to go most days on my own but I just wouldn't do that now," she said.
"I'm also having to take my daughter to school, whereas normally she'd take the bus.
"I don't want her walking on her own, or waiting for it on her own, and I think most parents will probably be doing the same thing.
"There's obviously quite a big police presence so hopefully everything will be OK, and we have a strong community, which is nice."
Another woman in the street said: 'I've lived here 36 years and I lived here as a child as well.
"This is very very awful news.
"I only knew her to say hello to.
"Usually I walk my daughter's dog down there, probably 50 yards from where she was found. But I won't now.
"I feel fear at the moment. But in a way I feel safe because there's so much police presence."
Our reporter speaks from the scene
Keith Thomas, 70, has lived in Spinney Lane, Aylesham, since 1977.
"The whole village is shocked by the whole event, being a local girl as well," he said.
"My wife goes for walks with the grandchildren there. It will stop people coming out. It is so close to home.
"I have great trust in the police, and I think that they will catch him. People don't keep quiet about things like that in this village. If somebody knows something, they will say it."
Mrs James is understood to have been working from home on Tuesday, before leaving the house in the afternoon.
Neighbour Sean Simmonds believes he may have been the last person to see her alive.
"I was polishing my car on the driveway and I looked up and saw Julia walking on the other side of the road with her dog," he said.
"She was heading towards the woods at the back. I didn't see her come back. Around 4pm the police arrived and started cordoning off the area. I might have been the last person to see her alive."
This evening, police tweeted to remind people that anyone with concerns can speak to officers who remain in the area in large numbers.
Mrs James was found just three miles from where Lin Russell, 45, her two daughters, six-year-old Megan and nine-year-old Josie and their dog Lucy, were tied up and savagely beaten with a hammer in July 1996.
Lin, Megan and their dog were killed but Josie survived. Michael Stone was convicted of the murders and remains in prison.
At about 2pm yesterday, police began scouring woodland off Holt Road, about 150 yards from Mrs James' house.
In the hours before more than 20 police vehicles descended on Aylesham Road, lining the country road opposite a nearby travellers' site.
This morning more officers arrived, with the delivery of 12 portaloos last night suggesting the force is expecting to remain at the scene for some time.
Mrs James' former partner, Wayne Davis, 62, says he learned of her death from their son, Patrick, 23.
He told The Sun: "The first I heard of it was Tuesday night. I asked my son if he know what was happening in Snowdown.
"He said to begin with he didn't, but there were police everywhere. I said I'd heard a woman had lost her life.
"Then a bit later the phone rang and he said 'Dad, it's mum.' He was devastated.
"What I personally find odd is it's happened in the middle of nowhere. It's a mystery. For something like that to happen - you just don't know whether it's just random."
Mr Davis added: "Julia was the love of my life but we separated, as couples sometimes do. She was a lovely woman.
"What she did as a PCSO was not just a job - it was a way of life."
Mrs James joined Kent Police in 2007 after leaving her job at a Kent County Council learning resource centre.
The Home Secretary was among the first to offer condolences to her family.
Last night, 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."
Today, Dover MP Natalie Elphicke described Mrs James as a "popular pillar of our community".
Officers from Kent's serious crime directorate are investigating the death of Mrs James, who worked in the Ashford area.
A spokesman for Ashford Borough Council said: "We are saddened to hear of the death of PCSO Julia James who was a familiar face within her role in the Ashford borough, particularly in Tenterden.
"We would like to send our sincere condolences to her family, friends and colleagues.”
Police 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.