Killer jailed for murdering PCSO Julia James in woods after ‘waiting for a lone woman’

A brutal killer has been jailed for at least 37 years for murdering a popular police community support officer while she was out walking her dog in a planned attack.

Callum Wheeler, 22, had previously admitted killing Julia James, 53, but denied murder – and was convicted by a jury in May in just over an hour.

Today prosecutors said Wheeler should never be released, and the victim’s family branded him a “disgusting creature”.

Mum-of-two Julia was beaten to death as she walked her Jack Russell dog Toby in the countryside near her home in Snowdown, Kent on April 27 last year, Canterbury Crown Court heard.

Today, the judge handed Wheeler, who has been held at Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, a life sentence with a minimum term of 37 years.

Before Wheeler learned his fate, Julia’s son Patrick Davies told the court that his mum’s killer “should never see the light of day again”.

Wheeler sat with his head bowed as his victim’s family, including her husband Paul James, daughter Bethan Coles and Mr Davies, read their emotional victim impact statements.

Her son said his mother’s life had been taken because of a “sick, twisted individual’s strange desires”.

He said: “He should never see the light of day again.

“Why should he?

“My mum only wanted to walk her dog but had her life ended by this disgusting creature.

“I will not refer to him as a human being.”

“I have struggled to find the right words to describe how it has devastated my life and the lives of my family,” added daughter Bethan.

“My life has changed beyond measure.

“To lose my own parent, the woman I loved the most in the world is truly awful.

“To know how she was brutally attacked in broad daylight having run for her life is horrific.

“It haunts me every day of my life.”

During the trial, prosecutor Alison Morgan QC labelled Wheeler as “an angry, violent, strange, highly sexualised man”, adding that “there is no mental health defence available to him”.

Wheeler, from Aylesham, Kent, waited in Ackholt Wood last year with the intention to kill a lone woman when he got the chance, the jury was previously told.

He had been seen in that location a number of times before and had walked around the area carrying the railway jack that he ultimately used as a weapon, it was said.

The jury of eight women and four men previously heard how the defendant “hit her head repeatedly” and “intended to cause her at least really serious harm”.

Ms Morgan said: “The attack on Julia James was not a momentary and spontaneous act of violence by this defendant.”

She told jurors he planned the attack “over many days and weeks”.

She added: “He knew those woods, members of the jury. He knew that people walked dogs in those woods, he knew that if he waited for the right moment there would be a lone female when nobody else was around when he could commit this attack.”

Ms Morgan told the jury what he intended was “clear and obvious”.

She said that when Julia saw Wheeler she “ran for her life to get away from him”, adding: “No doubt as fast as she possibly could, wearing wellingtons, caught by surprise, her heart rate surging.”

She told jurors it was an attack “involving stages”, the defendant allegedly handling her body before “repeated blows to her head”.

Julia had some of the most serious head injuries ever seen by the pathologist involved in the case, the court heard.

The prosecutor said there was not just one blow but “it was again and again and again”.

Wheeler had searched for pornography and the term rape on his computer in the days before the killing, the jury heard.

The jury was told that Wheeler had to thought to cover up what he had done and that the railway jack was wrapped in plastic bags soon after Julia’s death.

Defending, Oliver Blunt QC told the jury that through his not guilty plea to murder Wheeler effectively said he did not have the “level of intent required”.

Mr Blunt QC said: “He was 21 at the time and had no previous convictions or cautions recorded against him.”

He told the court that Wheeler’s behaviour before and after the killing did not make sense and that the railway jack was unwieldy and difficult to conceal as a weapon.

Describing the attack, Mr Blunt previously said: “This appears to be a completely motiveless, random, senseless, inexplicable incident.”

The jury also heard how Julia’s smart watch captured a spike in her heart rate as she spotted her killer in woodland and tried to flee.

The Apple watch belonging to Julia showed that her heart rate had gone from 97 up to 145 within seconds at the point it is said she spotted Wheeler in Ackholt Wood.

Martin Yale, a senior crown advocate from the Crown Prosecution, said: “This is an extremely tragic case, and it’s something that simply shouldn’t have happened.

“Women should be free to walk their dog in the middle of the day, without fear of this sort of thing happening.

“It’s clearly a tragic case. And our condolences go to Julia’s family, the local community, and Kent Police of which she was an employee.

“We just hope that the result, in this case, can provide some degree of solace to those individuals.”

Julia’s daughter Bethan ­remembered at a global event called Friendship Day.

The event, which took place on July 2, raised funds for the Rising Sun Domestic Abuse charity which Julia championed.

Organiser Sally-Anne Bedford said Julia, who was also a grandmother, was “the kind of woman we’d all like to have as a friend”.

Sally-Anne, 48, previously said: “Julia’s family are happy about the idea of her being remembered for the things she did, rather than what happened to her.”

She added: “People will be encouraged to get together and have fun.

“It could be a coffee morning, a dog walk, wine with friends or Zoom calls, anything to bring people together and create the kind of work she inspired.”

Paul James repeatedly broke into tears as he addressed his wife’s killer in court today, saying “my life was finally complete when I married my soulmate”.

“My hopes and dreams were taken,” he said when his wife was murdered.

“I actually felt I died too.”

Speaking outside court, Kent Police Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss said: “Callum Wheeler has demonstrated that he is an incredibly dangerous individual reflected by his actions that he subjected my colleague, Julia James, to the most horrific of injuries.

“I am reassured, and so should the public be, that Callum Wheeler is now off the streets for a significant period of time.”

Senior Crown Prosecutor Matt Capes, from CPS South East, said: “Everyone should be able to walk through streets and the countryside safely without fear of harm.

“Violence against women and girls is an abhorrent blight on our society that we are determined to eradicate.

“Women like Julia James and their families deserve justice.”