Thieves steal plaque erected in memory of PCSO Julia James
Thieves steal plaque erected in memory of PCSO Julia James after jobless loner is convicted of murdering the 53-year-old mother-of-two
- A plaque in memory of murdered PCSO Julia James was stolen on Monday night
- The memorial for the mother-of-two, 53, stood in the market of Aylesham, Kent
- It was taken hours after her killer Callum Wheeler, 22, was convicted of murder
- Police have issued pictures and pleaded for the cherished monument’s return
A plaque dedicated to PCSO Julia James was stolen within hours of her killer being convicted of her murder.
The 53-year-old was bludgeoned to death by loner Callum Wheeler as she walked her dog in a field near Ackholt Woods in Aylesham in Kent.
Wheeler, 22, was convicted of murdering the mother-of-two earlier this week.
Now, police are appealing for the whereabouts of the plaque which was taken from Aylesham’s Market Place on Monday night.
A Kent Police spokesman said: ‘Officers in Aylesham are appealing for help following the disappearance of a plaque in memory of PCSO Julia James.
Kent Police have released a picture of a plaque dedicated to PCSO Julia James, which was stolen within hours of her killer being convicted of her murder
Mother-of-two Julia James (pictured on her daughter’s wedding day), 53, was brutally killed by Callum Wheeler as she walked her dog in a field near Ackholt Woods in Aylesham, Kent
‘It is reported that the ceramic plaque, which had been placed near the Miners’ Wheel memorial in the village’s Market Place, was removed between 6.30pm and 9pm on the evening of Monday, May 16.
‘Officers are carrying out inquiries into the circumstances to determine whether any criminal offences have been committed and have released a photo of the plaque as part of their appeal.’
Chief Inspector Daniel Carter said: ‘Local officers remain in the area as part of their ongoing work with the community and I would like to thank residents for their continued support and encourage anyone with information about the plaque to get in touch with us.’
Wheeler, described as a loner, was pictured roaming the countryside the days after Mrs James’ murder while acting suspiciously.
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, and that Mrs James had deserved to die.
On Monday afternoon, a jury of eight women and four men at Canterbury Crown Court took less than one hour and 10 minutes to find him guilty of Mrs James’s murder.
Evidence from a gamekeeper who took Wheeler’s picture as he roamed suspiciously near the crime scene the next day was a turning point in the investigation.
Callum Wheeler, 22, was found guilty on Monday at Canterbury Crown Court of the murder of police community support officer Julia James
Gavin Tucker’s image of Callum Wheeler – taken near the spot where Julia James, 53, was found beaten to death – proved crucial in bringing him to justice.
Without the photo, police admitted the brutal killer would not have been caught for some time.
The quick-thinking farmer said he was in ‘the right place at the right time’.
While talking to the killer, Mr Tucker surreptitiously unlocked his phone and quickly took a snap of the young man, who then ran off.
Modest dad-of-five, Mr Tucker added that he is glad he could help crack the case.
The 42-year-old, who looks after farmers’ land and game birds, had been driving his Land Rover through the hamlet of Snowdown on April 28 last year when he spotted the distant figure of a person making their way across a field.
He added: ‘I thought I better investigate. Something in my head said “put the dashcam on”, so I did.’
Turning into the lane, he confronted the young man, who was carrying a long item wrapped in plastic bags – which would later turn out to be the pole he had used to bludgeon Ms James to death.
Mr Tucker said Wheeler was ‘nervous’ and ‘all over the place’ when he talked to him. When asked what he was doing, Wheeler said he was ‘new to the area’.
But alarm bells rang for Mr Tucker, as he remembered he confronted the same ‘odd’ young man months earlier, in September 2020.
He said: ‘I knew he was lying when he said he was new to the area.
‘That’s when I was very suspicious. I picked up my phone without him knowing, when I was still talking to him.
‘In my left hand, I unlocked my phone and got the camera up. Just as he walked past me I – bam – snapped the shot.’
This picture taken by gamekeeper Gavin Tucker of Callum Wheeler in a field near Ackholt Wood the day after the murder proved to be critical in identifying him as the killer
Wheller quickly fled and Mr Tucker sent the image to police, who circulated it among law enforcement in a bid to identify Wheeler.
But having had no luck, they released it to the press on May 7 in an appeal for the public to come forward.
Mr Tucker said: “We were watching ITV News and suddenly the picture came up.. Me and my wife looked at each other, shocked. I was a bit all over the place.”
Within hours, Wheeler had been identified by a member of the public and was arrested at home – where the bloodstained railway jack used in the murder was found propped against his bedroom wall.
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.
Mr Tucker told police all he knew and last week took the stand before Wheeler’s murder trial.
He describes the experience as “overwhelming”, adding: “For the last year of my life… it’s been so much to take in.”
Ms James’s family have directly thanked Mr Tucker for his quick-thinking actions and police also praised him, describing his photo as “very significant” in cracking the case.
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