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Julia James murder: Gavin Tucker tells how his photo helped catch killer Callum Wheeler


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The quick-thinking man whose photograph helped track down Julia James’ murderer says he was in “the right place at the right time”.

Gavin Tucker’s image of Callum Wheeler - taken the day after the PCSO was found bludgeoned to death - proved crucial in bringing him to justice.

Without the photo, which was snapped less than a mile from the murder scene, police admit the brutal killer would not have been caught “for some time”.

Modest dad-of-five Mr Tucker says he is glad he could help crack the case.

The 42-year-old, who looks after farmers’ land and game birds, had been driving his Land Rover through Snowdown on April 28 last year when he spotted the distant figure of a person making their way across a field.

Just a day before, Julia had been found murdered on a remote footpath, and police had begun pouring into the area.

Mr Tucker had been about to turn left at a junction, which would have taken him in the opposite direction.

Gavin Tucker talks about encounter with the murderer

But in a split-second, Sliding Doors moment, he instead turned right, and everything changed.

“I thought I better investigate,” said the gamekeeper, who lives in nearby Frogham.

“Something in my head said ‘put the dashcam on’, so I did.”

Turning into Pond Lane, he confronted Wheeler.

Footage shows the 22-year-old carrying a long item wrapped in plastic bags - which would later turn out to be the pole he had used to bludgeon Julia to death.

The photo that helped track down Wheeler. Picture: Gavin Tucker
The photo that helped track down Wheeler. Picture: Gavin Tucker

Mr Tucker says Wheeler was “nervous” and “all over the place”.

“I said ‘who are you? what are you doing?’,” he recalled.

“He said ‘I’m new to the area’.”

But alarm bells rang, as this was not the first time Mr Tucker had encountered Wheeler.

Seven months before, in September 2020, he had confronted the “odd” young man in the same area.

On April 28, Mr Tucker “knew it was him again straight away”.

“I knew he was lying when he said he was new to the area,” he explained.

“That’s when I was very suspicious. I picked up my phone without him knowing, when I was still talking to him.

“In my left hand, I unlocked my phone and got the camera up. Just as he walked past me I - bam - snapped the shot.

“He said something like ‘what are you doing?’ and ran off.”

Mr Tucker turned round to follow him, and his dashcam caught Wheeler running across the road and disappearing into woodland, while Mr Tucker called 999.

Police circulated the clear image among law enforcement in a bid to identify Wheeler.

But having had no luck, they released it to the press on May 7 .

“We were watching ITV News and suddenly the picture came up,” recalled Mr Tucker.

“Me and my wife looked at each other, shocked.

Julia James was murdered while walking her dog on April 27, 2021
Julia James was murdered while walking her dog on April 27, 2021

“I was a bit all over the place.”

Within hours, Wheeler had been identified by a member of the public and was arrested at his home.

Mr Tucker told police all he knew, and last week took the stand before Wheeler’s murder trial.

He describes the experience as “overwhelming”.

“For the last year of my life... it’s been so much to take in,” he said.

Julia’s family have directly thanked Mr Tucker for his actions.

Police too have praised him, describing his photo as “very significant” in cracking the case.

Det Supt Gavin Moss said: “I’m confident in the future we would have found Wheeler.

“But that would have amounted to a considerable amount of work, a considerable amount of time, and may not have been realised until some time after.”

Mr Tucker confronted Wheeler in a country lane, after seeing him making his way through a field near the murder scene
Mr Tucker confronted Wheeler in a country lane, after seeing him making his way through a field near the murder scene

In the days before and after Julia’s death, Wheeler was seen prowling the area with the murder weapon, and he later told police he wanted to return to the woods and kill more women.

Mr Tucker - like Julia’s own family - feels Wheeler is likely to have killed again had he not been apprehended.

“To carry round that murder weapon for such a long time... you never know if he was hoping to see someone else and strike again,” said Mr Tucker.

“I look after that area and the public - if anyone’s out of character you take the odd picture here and there; you just never know.

“There are people like us taking care of the land. And without that, what would have happened?”

However, Mr Tucker, who was in court on Monday when the jury delivered its guilty verdict, remains modest about his role.

“At the end of the day, I’m just pleased that I took that photo and it helped the family,” he said.

“I played my little part. I was in the right place at the right time.”

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