The killer of police community support officer Julia James has been handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 37 years at Canterbury Crown Court

Callum Wheeler, 22, was convicted of her murder by a jury – who took just over an hour to come to the verdict – at Canterbury Crown Court in Kent in May.

Ms James was off duty on the afternoon of 27 April last year when she was killed by Wheeler, who attacked her with a railway jack, a tool used to lift train tracks, resulting in “catastrophic injuries”.

The incident happened as she walked her dog in fields and woodland near the back of her home in Snowdown, Kent.

Her husband, Paul James, boke down a number of times as he read an impact statement in court.

He said: “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.”

Ms James’ daughter, Bethan Coles, said the family “will live with this every day” and that it is a “life sentence” for them.

Wheeler, 22, had no connection to the mother-of-two, and offered no explanation for beating Ms James to death when questioned by the police.

The trial heard Ms James had herself seen Wheeler three times in Ackholt Wood in the months prior to her death.

He was seen roaming around the countryside by witnesses with the weapon the day before the 53-year-old off-duty officer died.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Mrs James was subjected to a “brutal and fatal attack” as she fell to the ground while fleeing her attacker, adding: “This was a murder involving sexual conduct.”

Undated handout photo issued by the CPS of a photo taken by gamekeeper Gavin Tucker of Callum Wheeler in a field near Ackholt Wood. Wheeler, 22, is appearing at Canterbury Crown Court where he is accused with the murder of police community support officer Julia James. The 53-year-old PCSO was found dead in Akholt Wood near her home in Snowdown, Kent, on April 27. Issue date: Wednesday May 11, 2022.

Image: Callum Wheeler in a field near Ackholt Wood. Pic: CPS

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

Ms Morgan added that the murderer was lying in wait in bushes” for “highly respected PCSO” Mrs James, who made a “desperate attempt to run away”.

He 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.

He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 37 years by Mr Justice Wall, who told him: “The attack you launched on her was brutal and vicious.”

The judge said: “It was an attack which in combination with other similar offences reported in the press in the recent past has caused understandable fear and concern among members of the public who may find themselves in a similar vulnerable position to that which Mrs James found herself that day.”