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Former soldier found guilty of murdering dog walker in Norfolk woodland

PUBLISHED: 11:51 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:37 28 February 2018

Alexander Palmer. Picture: Facebook.

Alexander Palmer. Picture: Facebook.

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A former soldier from Cringleford was found guilty on Wednesday of killing a dog walker in a frenzied knife attack in woodlands near East Harling last summer.

Peter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary Peter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

The jury took less than an hour to convict Alexander Palmer of murdering Peter Wrighton in the Norfolk woodland.

The body of the married father and grandfather from Banham, was discovered on The Heath on Saturday, August 5 last year.

A post-mortem examination revealed the 83-year old died from multiple stab wounds to the neck and head.

Palmer, 24, of Freesia Way, Cringleford, who served with the British Army between 2010 and 2015, was charged with Mr Wrighton’s murder, but pleaded not guilty.

Police conduct anniversary checks near the scene of the murder of Peter Wrighton in East Harling, Norfolk.
Picture: Nick Butcher Police conduct anniversary checks near the scene of the murder of Peter Wrighton in East Harling, Norfolk. Picture: Nick Butcher

Following a trial at Nottingham Crown Court, a jury on Wednesday convicted him of the murder.

The jury of eight women and four men were sent out at just after 10.30am and returned its unanimous guilty verdict at 11.30am.

Palmer, who was dressed in a dark suit, shook his head as the verdict was announced.

He mouthed the words “I love you” to his family as the judge sent him down to the cells.

Police conduct anniversary checks near the scene of the murder of Peter Wrighton in East Harling, Norfolk.
Picture: Nick Butcher Police conduct anniversary checks near the scene of the murder of Peter Wrighton in East Harling, Norfolk. Picture: Nick Butcher

The Honourable Mr Justice Goose, adjourned the case until tomorrow for sentencing, but said life imprisonment was the sentence, by law, he must pass with the only issue the minimum term.

Speaking after the trial ended on Wednesday Mr Wrighton’s family said the killer had been let down by mental health services.

The trial heard that before the killing, Palmer had made notes referring to voices in his head about killing people with knives.

Palmer suffered mental health problems after being attacked by fellow soldiers on a night out in Plymouth in 2013.

Aerial shot of East Harling murder scene. PIC: Supplied by Norfolk Constabulary. Aerial shot of East Harling murder scene. PIC: Supplied by Norfolk Constabulary.

He had serious head injuries from the attack and quit the army in 2015.

After that he experienced hallucinations with voices in his head, which Palmer dubbed Alex or Little Alex.

Police were called to woodland near the Fiveways Junction at about 10.45am on August 5 last year.

The death was initially treated as unexplained with police later admitting an animal attack was considered as one of the possible causes.

Efit of Alexander Palmer (l) and (r) his photo from police custody. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary Efit of Alexander Palmer (l) and (r) his photo from police custody. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

But a murder inquiry was launched two days later after a post-mortem examination found the victim appeared to have been “subjected to a serious assault” with multiple stab wounds to his head and neck.

More than 100 officers were involved in the hunt for the killer as part of a massive operation which resulted in officers receiving hundreds of calls.

Palmer, formerly of Old Buckenham, was arrested a week after the discovery of Mr Wrighton’s body.

The arrest prompted searches at a number of addresses across Norfolk, including Freesia Way, Cringleford and another in Bawdeswell, where he was arrested.

Image of Alexander Palmer’s jacket and cellular matter. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary Image of Alexander Palmer’s jacket and cellular matter. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

As a 16-year-old Palmer received a top grade after a gruelling selection process and in September 2010 was due to start training at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.

A British Army spokesman confirmed Palmer had served in the Army from September 2010 to November 2015 but would not provide any further details.

Mr Wrighton, a former BT worker, was described as “a lovely, gentle husband, dad and grandfather” who loved walking his dogs, Gemma and Dylan.

Alexander Palmer in police custody. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary Alexander Palmer in police custody. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

•Palmer was ‘animalistic’

Detective Superintendent Marina Ericson, who was the senior investigating officer in the case, said: “I believe Palmer to be callous and extremely calculated in his approach to Peter’s death.

“It was a premeditated and predatory killing. Palmer took the opportunity of Peter walking alone with no one else around to launch an attack on an elderly, frail man knowing he would be unable to defend himself.

“Officers first on the scene described the incident as an animal attack and I think that description is still accurate. Palmer is a dangerous individual who was truly animalistic in his actions.

Alexander Palmer took this selfie shortly after killing Peter Wrighton. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary Alexander Palmer took this selfie shortly after killing Peter Wrighton. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

“With the murder taking place in a very rural location, the investigation was made more difficult by the lack of direct witnesses to this vicious attack. However, members of the public and local residents made over 300 calls to the force within the first days of Peter’s death and I am grateful for the information this provided the enquiry.

“No connection with the victim has ever been established and limited forensic opportunities meant it took the full resources of the constabulary and mutual aid from other forces to locate and bring the right offender to justice.

“While I am pleased the jury have found Palmer guilty, our thoughts remain with Peter’s loving family after such a devastating and incomprehensible loss. I can only hope that Peter’s family and the local community can find some form of closure from the knowledge Palmer will spend a significant amount of time in jail.”

Peter Wrighton's children, Carol Todd and Andrew Wrighton outside Nottingham Crown Court. Photo: Archant Peter Wrighton's children, Carol Todd and Andrew Wrighton outside Nottingham Crown Court. Photo: Archant

• Timeline of a murder

Saturday, August 5 2017

• Between 10.08am and 10.12am, Peter Wrighton is seen on CCTV buying items in Kenninghall Post Office. Afterwards , he drives in his red Skoda to woodlands in East Harling to walk his two dogs. The 4.5-mile drive usually takes about 15mins.

• At 10.46am Mr Wrighton’s body is discovered by dog walkers.

Sunday, August 6 2017

• Extensive Home Office Post-mortem examination carried out.

Monday, August 7 2017

• Murder investigation launched after post-mortem reveals victim had been subjected to a serious assault.

Tuesday, August 8 2017

• Members of the public urged to check their bins for a possible weapon and send in CCTV or dashcam footage which they hope might clues. Unusually police release description of victim, but not identity, during press conference.

Wednesday, August 9

• Police name murder victim as Peter Wrighton. He is described by his family as a “lovely”, “gentle” man.

Thursday, August 10 2017:

• CCTV footage of the last moments of Mr Wrighton’s life is released, as police release details of three people they wish to speak to in connection with the attack.

Friday, August 11 2017

• Appeal posters are released by police who have more than 100 officers working on the case.

Saturday, August 12 2017

• As police carry out anniversary checks in East Harling a week after Mr Wrighton’s body was found it emerges that a man in his 20s has been arrested.

Monday, August 14 2017

• Police charge 23-year-old Alex Palmer with the murder of Mr Wrighton.

February 20 2018

• Palmer goes on trial at Nottingham Crown Court after having denied murder.

February 28 2018

• Palmer is convicted of murder

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