Kent police urge public caution after death of support officer

A senior officer has said people in the area where a police community support officer was found dead should be “cautious”, but stopped short of advising women not to go out at night, as police said she had died as a result of serious head injuries.

Julia James was last seen walking her dog in the quiet hamlet of Snowdown, near Dover in Kent on Tuesday.

Richards paid tribute to a “hugely devoted passionate individual who was completely committed to serving the people of Kent”, adding that her family were going through an “incredibly difficult and challenging” time, while her colleagues were “very shocked and very upset”.

“Our heartfelt thoughts go out to her family, friends, and of course her colleagues,” he said.

The 53-year-old, who specialised in supporting victims of domestic abuse, was working from home on the day she was killed and was not in uniform, said Richards. She had been walking her dog, which was found unharmed when police arrived. He added that police had not yet identified a motive or any suspects in the murder investigation.

Speaking at a press conference in Aylesham, he confirmed that police were called to the edge of Akholt Wood on the outskirts of Snowdon village shortly after 4pm on Tuesday, where James’ body was found.

A postmortem carried out on Thursday determined that the PSCO had died from blunt trauma to the head, said Richards, who would not comment further on any potential murder weapon.

“This is an awful incident, but it is an incredibly rare and isolated incident not linked, at this stage, to any other offences,” he said.

“Of course it’s natural that people will be concerned. I would encourage people to be aware of the environment around them, to be vigilant [and] to report any concerns to the police.”

Asked if women in particular were being advised not to go out at night, he said: “No, I would not say that. I would encourage people to be cautious, to be vigilant, to be aware of their surroundings [and] to report anything of concern. […] I’m not specifically advising women, or anyone for that matter, to stay at home or to avoid any particular locations.” People should “continue with their lives”, he added.

Richards appealed for witnesses and said many members of the community had already come forward with useful information.

“If anybody else saw anything suspicious or strange on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, we’re very, very anxious to speak to them,” he said. “We’re very, very grateful for the support that we’ve received from the local community, they’ve been incredibly patient.”

With no motive as yet apparent, police were remaining “completely unblinkered” and “considering all possible motivations and all possible options”, he said.

He added: “Murder is a crime type with a high, high rate of being solved, but of course it’s an early stage in such an unusual offence […] It’s not appropriate for me to get to details of the crime scene.”

People are encouraged to contact Kent police on 0800 0514 526. Anyone with video footage can submit it online.

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