Callum Wheeler admits killing PCSO Julia James while she was on dog walk, court hears

PSCO Julia James Credit: Kent Police

A man has accepted killing a police community support officer while she was out on a dog walk in Kent, but denies her murder, a court has heard.

Opening Callum Wheeler's trial at Canterbury Crown Court on Monday (9 May), prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Julia James was ambushed in woodland near her home in Snowdown on April 27 last year.

She 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.”

Ms Morgan 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.”

Floral tributes were left to Julia James

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.”

The court also heard Ms James had seen a man alleged to be her killer, Callum Wheeler, a number of times in the woods where she was killed in the months prior to her death.

Alison Morgan QC added that Wheeler repeatedly visited Ackholt Wood, where Ms James would regularly walk her dog. She said: "On one of those earlier occasions when he was in Ackholt Wood, he saw and was seen by Julia James herself."

She later added Julia "was herself aware of the presence of a strange male", who she described to her husband, Paul James, as a "really weird dude".

She 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.

Police searching a field near Ackholt Wood in April 2021

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. 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".

Julia James (née Ghost), 53, had been a serving Kent Police PCSO since 2008 and lived with her husband on The Crescent in Snowdown.

Following her death, her family released a tribute describing Mrs James as "fiercely loyal", saying "she loved with her whole heart and nothing was too much trouble for the people she cared about.”

Wheeler, 22, from Aylesham, denies murder. The trial continues.