London - A former soldier with a grudge against dog walkers stabbed to death an elderly stranger exercising his pets, a court heard on Tuesday.
Alexander Palmer, 24, took Peter Wrighton, 83, by surprise as he walked his two dogs in woodland near his home, it is alleged.
He slashed him repeatedly with a knife, inflicting injuries so severe that Mr Wrighton’s head was almost severed, jurors were told.
Detectives were initially baffled by the apparently motiveless crime in rural Norfolk. Palmer, who suffers from mental health issues after an assault, was arrested days later when a psychologist who had treated him at RAF Marham in Norfolk came forward.
Nottingham Crown Court heard yesterday that the doctor contacted police after reading about the murder in the press and suggested Palmer was ‘worth speaking to’. The ex-soldier was said to have told medical professionals he heard voices in his head telling him to kill strangers and ‘appeared to have some ill feeling or a grudge towards dog walkers’.
Stephen Spence, prosecuting, said subsequent investigations revealed Palmer had travelled to East Harling in Norfolk on the day of the murder and mobile phone analysis showed he was in the area at the time. Security cameras also picked up Palmer’s car and he fitted the description given by witnesses.
He has admitted being in the area at the time but denies murder.
Mr Spence said Mr Wrighton was a fit and active pensioner who, on the morning of his death, woke as usual at 7.30am. He followed his normal routine of shaving, dressing, feeding his dogs and putting food out for the birds before taking a cup of tea to his wife Anne, to whom he had been married for 53 years. He would take his dogs, Gemma, a mongrel, and Dylan, a Scarteen harrier, for a walk most days at an area of land near East Harling known as the Heath.
Mr Spence told the court: ‘This day started off no different to any other. But whilst walking, and not having got a very great distance, he was attacked and murdered.’
The prosecutor told the jury that in addition to the wounds to his throat, Mr Wrighton was also stabbed repeatedly in the back of his neck and head and through the left eye.
‘There were also injuries suggesting Mr Wrighton might have tried to defend himself,’ he said. ‘The killer then dragged Mr Wrighton’s body a short distance from the path, placing it, the top of the head at least, partly under nearby brambles.’
A local couple walking their dogs found the body and called police. Mr Spence said officers initially believed that Mr Wrighton had been killed by ‘some sort of animal’, such was the extent of his injuries.
‘There were also rips to his clothing and scratches to his head and chest,’ he said. ‘It was only on closer examination that it became apparent that he had been attacked with a knife.’
Mr Wrighton’s body had more than 30 knife wounds.
Mr Spence said Palmer had carried out reconnaissance missions around East Harling. In police interviews, the ex-soldier said he was in the area that day as he was feeling ‘low’ and it was a place that brought back happy childhood memories. But the prosecution alleges that he planned the attack and had access to a knife he kept in his mother’s car, which has since disappeared.
The court heard that Palmer, who was living with his girlfriend and her mother at the time of Mr Wrighton’s death, had been a soldier until November 2015. He left the Army after he was injured in an assault that left him with mental health issues. He had been receiving treatment from the military.
Mr Spence said it was during his treatment that he told of hearing voices and made ‘a number of references to attacks to the throat’.
Mr Spence said he called the voices ‘Little Alex’, adding: ‘On one occasion he told staff, “When I eventually hurt someone, I know that I will plan out the method in my head, go to the desired place where I wish the scene to be set and then I will carry out the act of hurting someone... it could be anyone that it happens to. Just random, but I will have already thought about what I am going to do”.’
The prosecutor went on: ‘You might think that is a pretty good account of what happened to Peter Wrighton that day.’
However, David Spens, defending, urged the jury to keep an open mind. ‘There is no direct evidence that Mr Palmer is the perpetrator... instead the prosecution is relying on circumstantial evidence,’ he said.
The trial continues.