Watch: Police treating death of serving PCSO as murder
Neighbours have paid tribute to a female police community support officer (PCSO) who police believe was murdered, after her body was found in woodlands in Kent.
Julia James, a serving PCSO, was found dead in suspicious circumstances in a quiet hamlet in Ackholt Wood in Snowdown near Aylesham, shortly after 4pm on Tuesday.
The 53-year-old was found in an area she was known to regularly walk her dog.
Detectives have now confirmed the mother-of-two's death is being treated as murder.
The loss has shocked the tiny nearby hamlet of Snowdown, where Mrs James is believed to have lived with her husband.
The hamlet of Snowdown, near Aylesham, features around 54 houses and was one of the four chief collieries of the Kent coalfield, which closed in 1987.
Home secretary Priti Patel expressed her “sincere condolences” to Mrs James’ friends, family and colleagues.
No arrests have been made, but detectives are conducting inquiries to establish the circumstances, Kent Police said.
They previously confirmed her death was being treated as suspicious but it has since been upgraded to a murder inquiry.
Paying tribute to James, a neighbour on Thursday said: "She was warm and friendly, had a great sense of humour and loved dogs. She was just a lovely person.
"We were going to arrange a drink after the pandemic when the weather got nice but sadly that chance has been taken from us.
"It's quite unnerving to know that's happened in a sleepy hamlet. It makes your blood run cold."
Leah Southwell, 18, who lives in the area, added: "She was one of the most lovely people I ever met. When I saw her out she would speak for hours.
"My thoughts go out to the family. I feel absolutely heartbroken for them."
Following her death, neighbour Ben Sandowe, 23, added: "She would always look out for everyone and was very friendly. She was always looking out for people and was a really, really nice lady.
"Aylesham has a reputation that people don't like the police but they let her in."
Police officers were seen around the quiet cluster of homes on Wednesday afternoon as the investigation continued.
Local resident John Miller, 72, told the PA news agency: “I can’t believe it’s true to be honest, everyone feels safe round here.
“(I’m) gutted, gutted for the family and whoever it is I hope they catch them and they get put away for life.”
He told PA that he knew Mrs James’ family, whom he described as “very close”, and said what happened was a “hell of a loss”.
Several fields in the area have been sealed off while police conduct inquiries.
Police are urging anyone with information to come forward as they investigate the death of their colleague.
Assistant Chief Constable Tom Richards said Kent Police are pursuing “a number of lines of inquiry”.
He said it was “vitally important” that anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday, who may have seen something suspicious, comes forward.
Richards added: “We’re particularly keen to speak to those who regularly visit the area who may have seen something out of place and those who drove by who have dashcam footage.
“We would advise people in the area to remain vigilant until the full circumstances of the death are established.”
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Kent Police on 0800 0514 526, whilel anyone with video footage can submit it online.
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