Man convicted of murder of PCSO Julia James

The man who carried out the fatal attack on police community support officer (PCSO) Julia James as she walked her dog in Aylesham has been convicted of her murder.

May 17, 2022
By Tony Thompson
Callum Wheeler was pictured near Ackholt Wood carrying the murder weapon.

Following a trial at Canterbury Crown Court that concluded on Monday (May 16) Callum Wheeler, 22, was found guilty by a jury that took less than one hour and ten minutes to come to a decision.

Ms James, 53, who worked for Kent Police, was walking her dog Toby along a route close to her home on Tuesday, April 27 when the attack took place.

Detectives used data from her Apple watch to find out where she had walked and when, and pinpoint where she was attacked. Data showed that her heart rate and walking pace spiked at the point it is believed she spotted Wheeler in the woodland, and changed her route home in a bid to escape.

Data from the watch showed she had stopped right where her body was later discovered by members of the public at around 4pm.

Police and ambulances were called but she was declared dead after suffering a fatal head injury. Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate launched a murder investigation.

It was later, during their inquiries, when officers discovered her injuries were due to a blow to the head with a jack handle, an implement used to lift railway tracks.

Dashcam footage and a photo taken by a local resident was crucial in identifying Wheeler.

The footage was taken the day after the murder in a field close to the crime scene. As the resident drove past Wheeler, he saw he was carrying a long object in a blue bag. Aware of the murder investigation, the resident challenged Wheeler on why he was in the field. His behaviour seemed suspicious.

The man followed Wheeler and reported the sighting to Kent Police just before Wheeler crossed the road and disappeared into the woods. Officers searched the area but were unable to locate him.

On May 7, 2021, an image was released to the public and within a matter of hours a call was received identifying the man as Wheeler. His picture also matched descriptions by other members of the public who had seen him in the area, and he was arrested that day.

Wheeler was uncooperative during his arrest at his home in Sunshine Avenue. The jack handle was found in his room wrapped in plastic bags and was leaning against his bedroom wall.

He denied any wrongdoing, however, the jack handle was one of many items forensically examined and found to have both Wheeler’s and Ms James’ DNA on it. Wheeler’s skin cells were also discovered on the jacket and top that Ms James had been wearing at the time of her death and on one of her wellington boots.

The DNA on the jacket worn by Ms James was estimated to be in the order of at least a billion times more likely to have originated from Wheeler than someone else.

The jury heard that when remanded in custody, Wheeler told staff this case was “different because she was a copper” and that she “deserved to die”. He also talked of the woodland area where the attack happened, saying if he was released, he would harm other people and that “you can’t go into the woods and expect to be safe”.

Kent Police Chief Constable Alan Pughsley said: “Julia James was much loved by all who knew her, and our thoughts and deepest sympathies remain with those she left behind.

“We are extremely grateful to all those people who provided us with information and offered to look after our teams as they embedded themselves into the community for many months. It has been an unsettling time for everyone but made easier by the kindness and hospitality of Aylesham residents who were an incredible source of strength to us all and showed clear admiration for Julia.

“We may never know why Callum Wheeler went out and committed such a reprehensible crime that day but I hope that Julia’s family can take some comfort that he has been found responsible. Whilst I am pleased with this result and the relentless efforts of officers who worked day and night to ensure justice for Julia’s family, it is impossible not to also be overwhelmed with sadness.

“Our officers commit to giving every aspect of their lives in the defence of others, particularly the vulnerable, but to lose someone in this way has had such a big impact on the policing family.

“Julia will not be forgotten by her friends in this force and I have created an annual award in her name for the PCSO of the Year.”

Senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss, said: “We left no stone unturned to collect the evidence we needed that led us to Wheeler. Our presence in the area was supported by the community whose help was paramount.

“This was a very challenging investigation from the outset as it was such a rural location with no CCTV anywhere near the crime scene and a limited number of leads. It required a mix of expertise within the force and from other parts of the country. Specialist officers searched a vast amount of land and my teams were working around the clock to harvest all the evidence available.

“Information from the public was without doubt the key to being able to identify Wheeler, which ultimately led us to the DNA evidence that ensured his conviction.

“The passion and determination from all those involved in this investigation, to seek justice for Julia’s family was very evident from the outset. I am immensely proud of everyone who was involved. I hope that Julia’s family can now rest a little easier knowing that Wheeler has been convicted.”

Matt Capes, Senior Crown Prosecutor for Crown Prosecution Service South East said: “This is a truly shocking and heart-rending case. Julia James had a right to walk her dog, and to enjoy life’s freedoms, without fear of violence.

“The result of Wheeler’s callous and cowardly actions has left Julia’s family and friends devastated, and a community shocked by her loss. Wheeler’s action before, during and after the attack left absolutely no room for doubt that he was the man responsible for Julia’s death.

“We were able to present clear and compelling evidence that proved his intent to kill Julia due to the thorough investigation by Kent Police which included DNA evidence, witness testimony and CCTV footage. Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Julia who have shown courage and dignity throughout the course of the police investigation and court proceedings.”

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