Former soldier jailed for minimum of 28 years for murder
Mr Justice Goose QC made the comments as he sentenced 24-year-old Alexander Palmer to life imprisonment, ordering he serve a minimum of 28 years.
The sentencing, held at Nottingham Crown Court today (Thursday 1 March), follows an eight day trial which ended yesterday when a jury of four men and eight women took 44 minutes to find Palmer guilty of murdering 83-year-old grandfather Peter Wrighton.
The body of Mr Wrighton was discovered on Saturday 5 August 2017 in a remote area of heathland near the village. He had been subjected to a violent knife attack suffering injuries so severe officers initially thought he had been attacked by an animal.
A post-mortem examination established Mr Wrighton had died from multiple knife wounds to the head and neck. A murder enquiry was launched and the case received a significant breakthrough when an anonymous caller stated that when receiving mental health treatment, Palmer had talked of voices telling him to harm people and in particular dog walkers.
Further analysis of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) data, CCTV footage and mobile phone records revealed Palmer and his vehicle, a black Ford Focus with the registration L666 AHP, were in the area at the time of Mr Wrighton’s murder. He was arrested and subsequently charged with murder, which he denied.
Detective Superintendent Marina Ericson, who leads the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team and was the Senior Investigating Officer in the enquiry, welcomed the sentence.
She said: "What has become clear throughout this trial is that Palmer is an extremely dangerous man, who planned this brutal attack and went to East Harling on 5 August with one intention only and that was to murder someone. He will now serve a considerable amount of time in prison where he can longer be a threat to the public.
"While Peter’s family has seen justice, nothing can make up for the pain and anguish he has caused and I can only hope that today’s sentence allows them to fully grieve and process their loss."
Det Supt Ericson confirmed Palmer had received mental health support, both in the military and as a civilian, and a Serious Case Review will now be held to review the circumstances that led to Peter Wrighton’s death.
On passing his sentence, Mr Justice Goose QC, said: "I am satisfied that by taking the knife to the scene, this was a pre-planned attack and the victim, Peter Wrighton, was no match for the savage and brutal violence of your attack."
Former soldier convicted of East Harling murder
The court heard how this apparently pre-meditated and unprovoked crime resulted in hundreds of officers and staff assisting in one of Norfolk’s largest murder enquiries in recent decades. Speaking to numerous witnesses and conducting fingertip and forensic searches, all available resources were used to try and identify an offender in what was an extremely complex investigation.
A significant breakthrough saw an anonymous caller, responding to media coverage, stating that when receiving mental health treatment Palmer had talked of voices telling him to harm people and in particular dog walkers.
Further analysis of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) data, CCTV footage and mobile phone records revealed Palmer and his vehicle, a black Ford Focus with the registration L666 AHP, were in the area at the time of Peter’s murder.
On Saturday 12 August 2017, just one week after the murder, Palmer was arrested in connection with the incident and taken into police custody for questioning. On Monday 14 August 2017, Palmer was charged with murder and remanded into custody before being transferred to a secure hospital where he remained until his trial began on Tuesday 20 February 2018.
In interview Palmer claimed he had been in the area because he was in a low mood. He stated he had spent time in East Harling as a child with his family and often went there. He denied ever meeting Peter and claimed he didn’t enter the east side of the heath where Peter’s body was found.
However, jurors listened to evidence about a crater located close to the scene of the murder. They were shown an e-fit, produced after speaking to witnesses, which is an almost identical match to images of Palmer and also reviewed forensic evidence around DNA resulting from cellular matter matching MR Wrighton, discovered on Palmer’s jacket, which linked him to Peter’s body.
Detective Superintendent Marina Ericson, who leads the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team and was the Senior Investigating Officer in the enquiry, welcomed the verdict saying: "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.
"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.
"We are so grateful to the police force for the huge amount of work they did to achieve today’s result, and for the kindness and understanding they have given us. We also again thank the local dog walkers and residents for their co-operation and support.
"However, the revelations of the evidence relating to the mental health of Alexander Palmer have shocked, astounded and angered us. We feel that his mental health professionals failed both him and his family as well as ours. My mum, brother, myself and our children now not only feel grief, but anger as we believe this crime could have been prevented."