Grandfather had been stabbed repeatedly in head, neck and eye in ‘motiveless’ attack in East Harling woodland, court hears

Alexander Palmer, 24, has been found guilty of murdering Peter Wrighton. Picture: FACEBOOK

Alexander Palmer, 24, has been found guilty of murdering Peter Wrighton. Picture: FACEBOOK - Credit: Facebook

An 83-year-old dog walker was attacked “out of the blue” and murdered in a knife attack which left his head “almost severed from his body”, a jury has been told.

A post-mortem examination revealed Peter Wrighton died from multiple stab wounds. Picture: SUPPLIED

A post-mortem examination revealed Peter Wrighton died from multiple stab wounds. Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY - Credit: Archant

Peter Wrighton had taken his two dogs Gemma and Dylan for a walk but was attacked from behind and stabbed repeatedly to the back of his head and neck before finally being stabbed through his left eye.

As well as the fatal gaping wound to his neck Mr Wrighton’s other injuries included cuts to his hands which suggested he had tried to defend himself during the attack which happened in woodland at East Harling on August 5 last year.

Following the attack on a path it is believed Mr Wrighton’s body was dragged a short distance away to an area of brambles where the married father and grandfather was found by dog walkers who reported the discovery to police.

Former soldier Alexander Palmer, 24, is accused of carrying out the fatal attack but has gone on trial at Nottingham Crown Court after having denied murder.


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Opening the prosecution case yesterday, Stephen Spence said the injuries sustained by Mr Wrighton to his throat “led police to jump to the conclusion that he had been attacked and killed by a wild animal”.

It was not until after the results of a post-mortem examination that it was established he had been attacked with a knife.

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Mr Spence said the crime appeared to be “motiveless” and had left police “baffled”.

Following the launch of a murder investigation a large number of people were spoken to, including other dog walkers and people in the area at the time.

Police at the scene in East Harling last year. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Police at the scene in East Harling last year. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

The jury of eight women and four men were told the case attracted a great deal of media attention both locally and nationally.

Mr Spence said police received an anonymous call from a psychologist who had been part of a mental health team - which included military and civilian health workers - that had been involved with Palmer. Having read reports of what happened they suggested to police that Palmer, a former soldier, is someone police might want to look at.

Mr Spence said Palmer, who had been with the army until 2015, had been the victim of an assault which triggered a number of problems with his mental health.

The court heard that Palmer had told health professionals that he heard voices in his head which he referred to as Alex or Little Alex. The voices had told him to kill people or himself.

Peter Wrighton's body was found in woodland near East Harling on August 5 last year. Picture : ANTON

Peter Wrighton's body was found in woodland near East Harling on August 5 last year. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

Palmer was said to have a desire to kill strangers with a particular bugbear towards dog walkers. He had made references to carrying out attacks to the throat and neck.

He said if it happened it could be anyone it happened to, just “random”.

Mr Spence said after receiving this tip off police started looking into Palmer.

The prosecution said phone evidence showed he was in the area at the time. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras also showed his car, which has the registration number L666 AHP, had travelled to the area on the same day.

Mr Spence said witnesses also provided descriptions which matched Palmer being in the woodland at the time.

When interviewed Palmer told police he had been in the area although insisted he had not seen Mr Wrighton nor had he hurt him.

He said he had gone there in his childhood and had gone there that day because he felt in a “low mood” and wanted to be somewhere with happy memories.

Mr Spence said Palmer was also found to have visited the area about a month before the killing, something he said had been something of a reconnaissance mission for the former soldier.

The murder weapon has not been found but Mr Spence said Palmer had previously posted pictures of himself with knives on social media.

He had told police one of the knives he had posed with would be in a car, but it was not found.

David Spens QC, defending, said the prosecution had no “direct” evidence that Palmer had killed Mr Wrighton. He said there were no eye witnesses to the killing which his client had not been responsible for.

Palmer, of Freesia Way, Cringleford, appeared in court flanked by four security guards.

The trial, which is being presided over by The Honourable Mr Justice Goose, is scheduled to last for two to three weeks.

Palmer had initially been due to stand trial at Norwich Crown Court in the week beginning February 12. Following a hearing at the Old Bailey in London, the case was moved to Nottingham Crown Court. The trial continues.

“Ill feeling”

Former soldier Alex Palmer appeared to have “ill feeling” or a “grudge against dog walkers”, a court heard.

Palmer, who is accused of murdering dog walker Peter Wrighton, had voices which told him to kill people or himself by attacking the throat.

Stephen Spence, prosecuting, said: “In particular he appeared to have some ill feeling towards or a grudge against dog walkers.”

Mr Spence said on one occasion Palmer told staff when he eventually hurts someone he would “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.”

Mr Spence said that might seem a “pretty good account” of what happened to Mr Wrighton on that day.

He said it was no coincidence that Palmer, a former soldier, was in the vicinity at the time of the killing.

An “ordinary day”

August 5, 2017 was, as far as Peter Wrighton was concerned, going to be an “ordinary day”, a murder trial jury were told.

Stephen Spence said on that day, like most others, Mr Wrighton fed his two dogs Gemma and Dylan and put some food out for the birds.

He was going to take his dogs for a walk at East Harling woods, an area known as “the Heath” which was very popular with dog walkers.

He would usually stop at Banham to buy bread rolls for lunch, but went to a shop at Kenninghall to buy some cakes as a treat for Anne, his wife of 53 years..

Normally Mr Wrighton would return home at about 11.45am,after walking the dogs, and the couple would have lunch together.

But Mr Spence said that on this day after arriving at the Heath Mr Wrighton was attacked “out of the blue” and murdered.

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