A serving police community support officer who was found dead on Tuesday afternoon was murdered, police have said.
No arrests have yet been made following the death of PCSO Julia James, 53, whose body was found in Akholt Wood in Kent. The loss has shocked the tiny nearby hamlet of Snowdown, where Ms James is believed to have lived with her husband.
The death was initially viewed as suspicious, but Kent police confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that they were now treating it as murder.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, expressed her “sincere condolences” to James’s friends, family and colleagues.
Police officers were seen around the quiet cluster of homes on Wednesday afternoon as the investigation continued. Not far away, by a field, a white tent could be seen with police officers standing nearby.
Local resident John Miller, 72, said: “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 said he knew James’s family, whom he described as “very close”, and said what happened was a “hell of a loss”.
In Snowdown, a police officer was standing guard outside the home where James is believed to have lived, while another officer was seen in the garden.
Police are still urging anyone with information to come forward as they investigate the death of their colleague.
Assistant Chief Constable Tom Richards said Kent police were pursuing a number of lines of inquiry. He said: “It saddens me to confirm that the victim was a serving PCSO for Kent police, and whilst there is a full and thorough investigation under way, our thoughts also remain with her family, friends and colleagues.”
He added it was “vitally important” that anyone who was in the area and may have seen something suspicious come forward.
“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.”
Officers were called shortly after 4pm on Tuesday to the wood in the Aylesham Road area, where James’s body was found.
In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Patel said: “So saddened to hear of the death of Kent police PCSO Julia James. I offer my sincere condolences to Julia’s friends, family and colleagues at this awful time.”
Officers are keen to speak to anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday 26-27 April who may have seen something unusual or suspicious.