The vital role of gamekeepers as ‘the eyes and ears of the countryside’ has been demonstrated yet again after a Kent-based keeper helped catch and convict the murderer of a Police Community Support Officer.
A video shown in court recorded the moment that gamekeeper Gavin Tucker challenged 22 year-old Callum Wheeler after finding him behaving suspiciously on private land near where the body of Julia James had been found just 24 hours earlier. The interaction between Tucker and Wheeler, who was carrying a holdall with a large object sticking out of it, was caught on the gamekeeper’s dashcam. The gamekeeper also had the presence of mind to take clear photographs of Wheeler’s face and to call 999 to report him.
Using the photographs taken by the gamekeeper, police launched an appeal and were able to identify and arrest Wheeler. In his bedroom they found the handle of a heavy railway jack with traces of Mrs James’s DNA still on it. Prosecutors claimed in court that this was the object Wheeler was carrying when he was confronted and photographed by Tucker.
This is not the first time a gamekeeper has been instrumental in detecting a serious crime. In 2012, gamekeeper Keith Pryer found the bodies of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. His discovery which led to the conviction of their murderer, school caretaker Ian Huntly. Meanwhile, keepers are routinely tackling crimes such as hare coursing, badger digging and equipment theft.
In 2020, Northumbria Police told Shooting Times how they had brought gamekeepers into their rural crime volunteer scheme, with Sergeant Ian Pattinson saying: “Their local knowledge is far greater than that of any police officer and it is absolutely invaluable.”
In court Wheeler’s barrister argued that while he admitted carrying out the killing, Wheeler had lacked the intent necessary to carry out murder due to his poor mental health. However the jury rejected this, finding him guilty of Mrs James’s Murder. He will be sentenced at a later date.