Man who bludgeoned PCSO Julia James to death is found guilty of murder

oner who prowled woodland with weapon stuffed in his backpack is found guilty of murdering PCSO Julia James: Killer, 22, who bludgeoned 53-year-old to death REFUSES to stand and is dragged to his feet as jury give their verdict

  • Callum Wheeler, 22, has been found guilty of PCSO Julia James’ murder
  • A jury took just 73 minutes to decide that he had ambushed the 53-year-old
  • He refused to stand for the verdict and was physically held up by security staff
  • Wheeler had accepted responsibility for killing Mrs James but denied murder

A ‘highly-sexualised’ loner who bludgeoned police community support officer Julia James to death while she walked her dog has been convicted of murder today.

A jury of eight women and four men took just 73 minutes to decide Callum Wheeler, also described as ‘angry, violent and strange’, had ambushed the 53-year-old mother-of-two in Ackholt Wood near her home in Snowdown, Kent, at around 2.30pm on April 27 last year. 

Wheeler, 22, who is being held at Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, did not react when the guilty verdict was delivered. 

He refused to stand for the verdict and was physically held up by three members of court security staff in the dock.

He stared downwards throughout and made no expression when the jury found him guilty of murder. 

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

A jury took just 73 minutes to decide Callum Wheeler (pictured), also described as ‘angry, violent and strange’, had ambushed the 53-year-old mother of two

Wheeler, who lived in Sunshine Corner Avenue, Aylesham, with his father John, and has no previous convictions, had accepted responsibility for killing Mrs James on day one of his trial last week but denied murder at Canterbury Crown Court.

The prosecution said the ‘extremely violent and sustained’ attack with a metal, 3kg railway jack was not ‘a momentary or spontaneous act of rage’ but one which he had planned over ‘many weeks’.

Having lay in wait for a lone, vulnerable female, he confronted 53-year-old Mrs James, who was off duty and not in uniform, at a spot where it was said she had seen him two months earlier and had even described him to her husband Paul as ‘a really weird dude’.

He had no connection to the mother-of-two, and offered no explanation for what he had done when questioned by the police. 

Mrs James tried to run away but fell to the ground after either tripping in her wellington boots or from the first blow from the jack.

The court heard as she lay face-down on a bridlepath at the edge of a field, Wheeler then touched her clothing, including the breast area of her vest top worn underneath a coat and jumper, before repeatedly striking her to her head.

She suffered such severe injuries – her skull was said to have been ‘obliterated’ – that a pathologist described them as ‘completely unsurvivable’ even with immediate medical intervention and among the worst he had seen in his 12-year career.

Mrs James’ body was found about an hour-and-a-half later by a family out on a walk. Her Jack Russell Toby was nearby, still wearing his lead and unharmed.

The jury were shown this image of Wheeler in a field near Ackholt Wood carrying a rucksack with a large object contained in a Tesco carrier bag sticking out the back. The photograph was taken by game keeper Gavin Tucker who gave evidence at the trial

Julia James’ death had a ‘very personal impact’ on force

Julia James was a popular and well-respected figure in her local community who specialised in supporting victims and witnesses of domestic abuse.

She joined Kent Police in August 2008, initially being posted to the Ashford district and later in 2018 moving to Canterbury, nearer to her family.

The mother-of-two went on to specialise in supporting victims and witnesses of domestic violence.

Such was the affection for the officer that members of the communities that she served lined the streets to pay their respects as her body was conveyed to her funeral last July.

Deputy chief constable Tim Smith said he and Mrs James’s colleagues ‘miss her greatly’.

He said: ‘The impact on us, the force and the staff who work in the force, has been far more profound I would suggest than perhaps any other murder case we’ve had in the county because of that deep connection that Julia had with the organisation.

‘She was very much loved.

‘She was known by staff at all ranks and all roles, and particularly in the east of the county where she worked for a long time.

‘There’s a very personal impact for us as a force.’ 

Her phone, on which she had sent her last message about five minutes before she was murdered, was ringing.

The bloodstained railway jack was found propped against a wall in Wheeler’s bedroom on his arrest 10 days later.

He was seen roaming around the countryside with the weapon the day before the 53-year-old died, and in the days after as hundreds of police officers scoured the area for clues.

On arrest, Wheeler told officers ‘sometimes I do things that I cannot control’ and ‘you can’t go into the woods and expect to be safe’.

He also told a member of police staff that he would return to the woodland and rape and kill a woman.

The court heard he later remarked while in police custody that Mrs James had ‘deserved to die’ for being ‘a f***ing fat c**t’.

He also exposed himself to a female police officer in his cell, and chillingly warned custody staff he would ‘knock other women to the ground and rape and kill’ if released, adding ‘you can’t go into the woods and expect to be safe’.

Analysis of his laptop revealed the trawling of numerous pornographic websites in the week before the murder, and a Google search of ‘rape’ just two days before, Canterbury Crown Court, Kent, was told.

Although no one witnessed the fatal attack, Mrs James’ Apple smartwatch recorded the exact time and location she was confronted by Wheeler, with a ‘spike’ in her heart rate from 97bpm to 145bpm, a change in pace and a ‘sudden detour’ off her usual route.

The GPS data proved crucial to the murder hunt, as did dashcam footage of Wheeler being challenged by gamekeeper Gavin Tucker who came face-to-face with him walking in a field the day after the murder.

Despite a heavy police presence and cordon in the area, Wheeler had ventured out armed with the weapon he had used to cave in the Kent Police officer’s skull.

A suspicious Mr Tucker dialled 999 and took two photos of him, one of which was later released by police to the public on May 7 and led to his identification and arrest later that day.

Wheeler, from Aylesham in Kent, has been found guilty of murder at Canterbury Crown Court (pictured centre in a court sketch)  

As well as the railway jack being stained with Mrs James’ blood, his DNA was discovered on one of the PCSO’s boots, her Berghaus jacket and her vest top. Her blood was also discovered on his Nike trainers.

Other vital evidence came from almost 7,000 hours of CCTV footage downloaded by police from homes, businesses and dashcams which included images and timings of Wheeler in the vicinity of Ackholt Wood.

Wheeler, who lived in Sunshine Corner Avenue, Aylesham, with his father John, and has no previous convictions, only accepted responsibility for killing Mrs James on day one of his trial last week but denied murder.

He did not give evidence however, none was called on his behalf by his defence team, and none of the prosecution evidence was challenged.

Canterbury Crown Court heard last week that Wheeler (pictured centre in a court sketch), from Aylesham in Kent, accepted that he killed her but denied murder

In a legal document to the court, he simply stated: ‘I accept that I did go to Ackholt Wood and I did kill Julia James.

‘I do not want to plead guilty to the crime of murder. I will plead guilty to the crime of manslaughter….I believe I was suffering from diminished responsibility.’

However, trial judge Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb told the jury the issues of diminished responsibility and loss of control were irrelevant to the case, and that there were no relevant mental health conditions suffered by Wheeler.

The jury of eight women and four men began deliberating at 3.17pm and returned with the guilty murder verdict at 4.30pm.

Sentencing has been adjourned to be fixed at a later date. 

An image of the PCSO in the clothes she was wearing on the day she was killed 

Killer Callum Wheeler was an isolated ‘loner’ 

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

Callum Wheeler was described as ‘a complete and utter loner’ who spied on police as they investigated the death of the woman he had killed.

The 22-year-old had no known friends, few numbers stored in his mobile phone and would spend most of his time alone in his bedroom.

In his trial, the jury heard that he accessed a number of pornography websites in the days before and after Julia James’ death and looked up rape.

He was so isolated that he barely knew his own brother, police said.

Wheeler, his father and one brother had moved to the Kent village of Aylesham from London two years before Mrs James died, after Wheeler’s parents separated and his mother stayed in the capital. He also had another brother.

He was known to go and watch football at the local sports centre on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and played computer games, but had no job and was not studying at the time of Mrs James’s death.

Police said that he had left school around the age of 15 and had no formal qualifications.

Senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss said: ‘I would describe him as a complete and utter loner. Normally in our investigations we get into the absolute detail of people, and we find out how they live their life.

‘He spent most of his time watching TV in his bedroom. He had no friends, normally we’re able to explore about associates. His mobile telephone had very few contacts on it.’

Investigators also believe from sightings around the area that Wheeler was watching as officers scoured the area for clues, following the death of one of their colleagues at his hands.

Mrs James was beaten to death as she walked her dog near Ackholt Wood in Kent.

The investigation was one of the biggest undertaken by Kent Police in recent years, with 1,100 officers and staff involved in the painstaking inquiry.

Mr Moss said that a few days after the killing in nearby Spinney Lane ‘a witness saw a person she described as Callum Wheeler looking down towards the direction where the officers were working, watching’.

He believes Wheeler had been doing the same thing when he was photographed the day after Mrs James died on April 28, still carrying the weapon in his blue holdall.

Investigators are still no clearer as to why Wheeler packed the railway jack in his bag, walked around the Kent countryside and killed an innocent woman.

There was no known connection to his victim and Wheeler told police he did not know her, and he had no history of violence.

During the trial, jurors heard that Wheeler said Mrs James was a ‘copper’ who ‘deserved to die’ while he was remanded in custody at Maidstone police station.

He also tried to pull down his trousers to masturbate while in a cell, prosecutors said.

During his trial for murder at Canterbury Crown Court he behaved erratically in the dock, at times sitting hunched over or staring blankly into space.

He was warned by judge Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb not to talk as the prosecution began opening their case, and in the final stages of the trial had to be carried in to the dock.

The jury heard there were no signs of a ‘sustained or violent’ sexual attack on Mrs James, according to the pathologist who carried out a post-mortem examination, though it was not completely ruled out.

Nothing was taken from Mrs James – only her house key has never been found. 

Wheeler was said by his barrister Oliver Blunt QC to be on the autistic spectrum.

Unbeknown to the jury he is currently held in high security Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire and, although flanked in the dock throughout his trial by four staff members, no psychiatric or medical evidence was called in his defence.

Due to the random nature of the murder, police believe Wheeler may have killed again if he had not been arrested.

Referring to the extensive police operation involving 1,100 officers and staff, senior investigating officer Det Supt Gavin Moss of the Kent and Essex Crime Directorate said: ‘I can never say what was going on in his mind, but the level of resources used was justified because we cannot know that he wouldn’t have done it again.’

Police have said he dropped out of school at the age of 15 – failing to achieve his GCSEs – and moved to Aylesham from southeast London around two years before the murder to live with his father after his parents split up.

He was unemployed, not studying and described by DS Moss as ‘a complete and utter loner’ whose life consisted of watching TV and playing video games in his bedroom.

He is believed to have no friends, had barely any contacts in his mobile phone, and not even a relationship with his brother.

But residents in the neighbouring rural villages of Aylesham and Snowdown had seen him regularly watching a local football team train twice a week and, more sinisterly, ‘roaming’ surrounding fields and woodland in the months leading up to the murder, at times with the murder weapon.

The court heard others had seen Wheeler in the hours before Mrs James’ death and in the immediate aftermath carrying a large holdall from which the jack, covered in a carrier bag, was protruding.

One woman living near Aylesham village later told police how she had ‘felt uncomfortable’ when she saw him in an alley outside her home between 12noon and 1pm on April 27.

Ten days before the murder two other female PCSOs had gone to his home in response to an abandoned 999 call he had made. But he refused to talk to them, laughing as he branded them phoney and ‘not real police’.

Police were yet to reach his home as part of their house-to-house inquiries when he was arrested on May 7. He was aggressive and abusive to officers who had to force their way into his barricaded bedroom.

He demanded who had ‘ratted’ on him but also remarked ‘Sometimes I do things that I can’t control’ and spoke about wanting the death sentence.

As well as using his laptop to visit websites including Chatabate, Babestation and Pornhub, and Googling ‘rape’ shortly before the murder, in its aftermath he searched ‘PCSO Julia James’ on Facebook and repeatedly Googled media articles about her killing right up until the evening of his arrest.

Wheeler’s behaviour in court was at times bizarre. As the prosecution was opening its case, he was seen in the dock unbuttoning his shirt to the navel, smirking and making a ‘V’ sign.

Mrs James’ family, including husband Paul, daughter Bethan Coles, son Patrick Davis and mum Mary Ayres, attended the trial.

Described as a devoted and much-loved officer, she had joined Kent Police in August 2008 and was assigned to specialist role with a domestic violence unit when killed.

Outlining the prosecution case against Wheeler, Alison Morgan QC had told the court his guilt to the offence of murder was ‘clear and obvious’.

Describing him as ‘an angry, violent, strange, highly-sexualised’ man, she said: ‘He waited for Julia James or another vulnerable female to be in that wood.

‘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.’

Of his planned attack, Ms Morgan added: ‘He knew those woods. He knew that people walk dogs in those woods.

‘He knew that if he waited for the right moment there would be a lone female passing when no one else was around and when he could commit this attack, and he was waiting for that right moment to come along.

‘He had planned this attack and how he would carry it out. This was not some spontaneous act of rage. This was an ambush attack where the defendant intended to surprise his victim.’ 

Police searching around the Spinney Lane area on May 6, 2021

Forensic officers at an address in Aylesham, Kent, May 8, 2021

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