Julia James murder trial: Jurors retrace final steps of PCSO before attack by Callum Wheeler

Julia James murder trial: Jurors retrace final steps of PCSO before attack by Callum Wheeler

 jury has retraced the final steps of a police community support officer who was beaten to death ‘with a railway jack’ while walking her dog.

Julia James, 53, died from head injuries near Ackholt Wood, close to her home in Snowdown in Kent, on April 27 last year.

On Tuesday jurors in the trial of Callum Wheeler, who is accused of her murder, were taken to Mrs James’s former home and along the footpath where she walked that day with her Jack Russell dog Toby.

The path led from a gate at the end of her garden, through a wooded area and along the edge of a farmer’s field. Mrs James’s exact final movements were recorded by her smart watch.

She walked along an uneven path at the edge of the field and on to a bridle path at the edge of Ackholt Wood to a place known for an abundance of butterflies, that she and her husband Paul called the Butterfly Point.

The jury walked along the edge of a field full of crops to that point, where Mrs James turned round and began to walk home.

They were shown the point where she then made a detour away from a wooded area, the prosecution claim because she had seen Wheeler in the woods and wanted to get away.

A yellow marker showed the point a short distance away along a path next to a wheat field where her body was found.

urors have already been told that Mrs James had seen Wheeler in the same spot before, and described him to Mr James as ‘a really weird dude’.

Wheeler accepts that he killed her but denies murder, and is on trial at Canterbury Crown Court.

Yesterday the court heard how the moment Ms James tried to make her escape from her alleged murderer was captured in heart rate and walking speed data recorded by her Apple Watch on the day she died.

The court heard how Mrs James was chased by her attacker before being subjected to a ‘a very violent and sustained blunt force trauma’ said to have ‘caved in’ her skull.

The blows concentrated on the top and back of her head, and caused injuries so severe they were unsurvivable even with medical intervention.

A post-mortem examination revealed the mother-of-two had suffered significant head injuries. The ‘brutal and fatal’ attack sparked a widespread hunt for her killer, with hundreds of police officers spending weeks scouring land surrounding the rural hamlet of Snowdown.

Prosecutors told jurors that Mrs James’ movements and biometrics were being tracked by the device as she walked into the woodland where she was killed.

Alison Morgan QC told the court: ‘We saw now the pace she was going at and the moment her pace radically changed and that’s plotted by the data from her own watch.’

She added: ‘We also know about her heart rate. A relatively stable heart rate through the part when she was walking. That at 14:30 and 36 seconds her heart rate was 97 beats per minute.’

Ms Morgan QC said moments later it had ‘launched’ to 145 beats per minute, adding: ‘And that launch is something I will come back to as to where she was and details the escape she was doubtless trying to make at that moment. It was at that point that her heart rate surged.’

seen him before and it was at that point that her heart rate surged.

‘She took a sudden detour off the path. She began to move along the side of the field.

‘She had run out of the wood, doubtless to try and escape her attacker and had got as far as she could along this path.

‘She was chased by her attacker and it is likely as she ran she fell, either from the first blow from her attacker or by tripping because we know from the pathology evidence that her left wrist was fractured.

‘Once down on the ground she was then subjected to what the pathologist described as a violent and sustained blunt force trauma.

Murder suspect ‘avoided police and kept check on cordon around scene of PCSO’s killing in days after her death’

Callum Wheeler avoided police and kept a check on a cordon around the scene of Julia James’ killing in the days following her death, Canterbury Crown Court has heard.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC told jurors he often took a bag believed to contain the alleged murder weapon with him and tried to dodge local gamekeeper Gavin Tucker.

She said: ‘So for the days following on after the murder, 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.

‘You will want to consider why he was behaving in that manner.’

‘It was clear she was struck to the head repeatedly by the weapon, by that railway jack.’

The court heard Mrs James’s hood was up when she was hit and there was very little blood around her.

But it was said Wheeler had ripped up some long grass to cover up a small amount of blood next to her body.

‘Given the serious nature of the violent injuries to her head, which caused her skull to cave in, the majority of those injuries must have been inflicted when she was face down on the ground with her hood up,’ Ms Morgan said.

‘Julia James died extremely rapidly given the severity of the incapacitating blows that she received.

‘It is now accepted that this defendant committed that attack in the way that I have described. The defendant killed Julia James and you must consider what he must have intended when he did that.’

Ms Morgan said Mrs James had lost her glasses when she tried to flee.

Her body was discovered just after 4pm that day by a family out walking who first spotted Mrs James’s dog on his lead but ‘without an obvious owner’.

Police immediately mounted a huge investigation but despite their heavy presence and cordon, the court heard Wheeler went back out the next day with the alleged murder weapon to either ‘goad officers or to look for somewhere to dispose of it’.

A local gamekeeper, Gavin Tucker, challenged Wheeler as he saw him walking in a field with a bag over his shoulder and a long bar protruding from it.

He took a photo of him which was later used by police as part of their appeal and dialled 999 while Wheeler was said to have ‘raced off’ on foot, the court heard.

Wheeler had also been seen ‘roaming around’ with a large holdall with the metal jack sticking out from it just 24 hours before Mrs James’s death.

The court heard Wheeler was arrested on May 7 last year as a result of his photo, taken by Mr Tucker the day after Mrs James’s killing, being released by police to the public.

Police went to his home where having been let in by his father, they found he had barricaded himself into his bedroom.

When arrested on suspicion of murder he made what Ms Morgan amounted to ‘clear denials’ saying he was not guilty and someone had ‘ratted on him’.

But he then added: ‘Sometimes I do things I cannot control.’

Forensic examination of clothing belonging to Mrs James revealed Wheeler’s DNA on her wellington boots, jacket, and on a white vest top worn beneath both the jacket and a grey jumper.

The court heard there was no evidence of a ‘sustained or violent sexual assault’ but the jury was told to consider how his DNA ended up on that top and what that told them ‘ he had done, must have touched, must have engaged with’.

Mrs James’s blood was found on Wheeler’s trainers, including the tongue, lace area and stitching.

The railway jack was also stained with her blood and Wheeler’s DNA. Fragments of an adhesive residue on the weapon also matched ones found in her hair.

The court heard the railway jack is typically used for adjusting train track. It was almost a metre in length and weighed around 3kg

When interviewed by police he answered ‘no comment’ other than to state ‘I wish to say I have not murdered Julia James’.

The jury was told they would not be hearing any medical or psychological evidence to suggest Wheeler was suffering from a mental disorder.

Ms Morgan said the evidence showed ‘clearly and obviously’ that Wheeler had the intention to kill or at least cause really serious harm, and was therefore guilty of murder.

‘He waited for Julia James or another vulnerable female to be in that wood,’ she told the jury.

‘He waited to ambush her, he chased her down. She ran, desperate to get away from her attacker.

‘Unable to outrun him, caught by surprise, wearing wellington boots, 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 as he hit her in that way repeatedly. Using that weapon he knew that and he intended it.

‘The key question for the offence of murder 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.’

Prosecutors allege the PCSO had seen Wheeler a number of times in Ackholt Wood in the months prior to her death.

Mrs James ‘was herself aware of the presence of a strange male’, who she described to her husband, Paul James, as a ‘really weird dude’, Alison Morgan QC told the court.

Jurors heard the mother-of-two later pointed out the male, alleged to have been Wheeler, to Mr James during a walk together in February 2021, around two months before her death.

The court was then played footage from police body-worn video of an encounter between officers and Wheeler when he dialled 999 on April 17 – 10 days before Mrs James died.

Jurors were then played footage from police body-worn video of an encounter between officers and Wheeler when he dialled 999 on April 17, 10 days before Mrs James died.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Callum Wheeler, May 13, 2021

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Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Callum Wheeler, May 13, 2021

Ms Morgan told the jury: ‘He did not give a coherent reason for calling the police and he did not invite the police officers into his property.’

The footage showed Wheeler telling the officers ‘get lost mate’ and ‘I’m not talking to you’, before his father reassured them he was OK.

Ms Morgan said: ‘You may think that the footage of this visit shows the defendant to be behaving oddly’ and told the court that he had been reluctant to have ‘any meaningful conversation with the police’.

The prosecutor told the jury: ‘The evidence suggests that her attacker was waiting in the woods for someone to attack and then ambushed her. Julia tried to escape her attacker but she was subjected to a brutal and fatal attack. She suffered catastrophic injuries and died where she fell.’

She went on: ‘A heavy blunt object was used to murder Julia James and when we come on to consider her injuries you will understand why it must have been an object of that type that killed her.

‘In fact the prosecution alleges, and there may now be no dispute, that the weapon was a large railway jack.’

Ms Morgan added: ‘That item was found in his bedroom.’

Prosecutors allege Wheeler was seen wandering around the area 24 hours before Mrs James’ death with the rail jack.

A man called Neil McMahon saw a man walking along the verge of Spinney Lane towards Aylesham carrying a long blue bag with a bright object protruding out of it on the afternoon of April 26.

Ms Morgan said, if it is correct that the object was the rail jack: ‘It means that the defendant was roaming around this area armed with that metal bar 24 hours before he came to attack Julia James.’

Ms Morgan said: ‘The defendant went out again carrying the weapon that he had used to kill Julia James. 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.’

Witnesses who saw Wheeler included a gamekeeper called Gavin Tucker, who had seen him in the area in September of the previous year.

‘When he spoke to him on April 28, 2021, Wheeler said he was new to the area and hurried off. Mr Tucker took a short video clip and still of Wheeler, that was later used in a police appeal, and called police. PC Scott James later attended and saw a man running in to the hedge line.’

Ms Morgan said: ‘The community in Aylesham you may think at that time was shocked at Julia James’ death, many were seeking to assist the police in whatever way they could with information. Yet here was the defendant playing games.’

She said it is the prosecution’s case ‘that there is a large body of evidence from a variety of sources that demonstrate that the attacker was this defendant Callum Wheeler’.

She told the court: ‘Although he denied responsibility for the killing for some time, he does now accept that he was the person that killed Julia James, however he does not accept that he is guilty of the offence of murder.’

Several members of Mrs James’ family attended court to hear the prosecution open the case.

Mrs James had been a police community support officer since 2008, and worked within the domestic violence unit at Canterbury police station.

Her death led to an outpouring of grief in the community she dutifully served for many years.

The trial continues, with the jury, barristers and judge Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb due to visit the scene of the alleged murder tomorrow.

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