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Witness tells of encounter with man in woods on day 83-year-old dog-walker was murdered

PUBLISHED: 12:17 21 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:42 21 February 2018

Peter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

Peter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

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A retired RAF navigator was approached by a man of “eastern Mediterranean” appearance while walking in a Norfolk woodland on the day an 83-year-old was murdered, a court heard.

Alexander Palmer. Picture: Facebook.Alexander Palmer. Picture: Facebook.

Former wing commander Christopher Davies gave evidence about the encounter at the trial of former soldier Alexander Palmer, who is accused of murdering dog walker Peter Wrighton.

Mr Wrighton was stabbed repeatedly in the back of his head and neck in an attack which left his head “almost severed from his body” in East Harling on August 5 last year.

Palmer, 24, of Freesia Way, Cringleford, denies murder.

Giving evidence at Nottingham Crown Court this morning, Mr Davies said he was taking his golden retriever for a walk on Harling Heath when he met a man who was alone in the area.

Nottingham Crown Court. Picture: Peter Walsh.Nottingham Crown Court. Picture: Peter Walsh.

He said he left the house on August 5 between 9.30am and 9.45am, arriving at the site around 15 minutes later.

Mr Davies, who served in the RAF for 37 years, told the court: “As I walked onto the heath, I had walked no more than 50 yards and I could see on the skyline, around 400 to 500 yards in front of me, the top half of a person.

“What was slightly unusual was that the gentleman walked towards me in a straight line, he did not appear to walk along the single track.

“The impression was that he wanted to talk to me or wanted to meet me.”

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

Mr Davies, who was aged 68 at the time, said the man “cut across” the heath as he came towards him and was alone.

“I would describe him as of eastern Mediterranean extraction,” Mr Davies said. “He had a dark complexion, not so dissimilar from the Greeks or Cypriots.”

Mr Davies said the man was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, which were grey in colour. He said he had dark hair, brushed back from his forehead, and a light beard.

“I apologised to him for my dog because it was wanting to pull on the lead and move towards him,” Mr Davies said. “He [the man] was ambivalent about it.”

Mr Davies said the man spoke with an English accent, and no “noticeable” regional dialect.

He told the court: “I said [to him] you look a little lost. He said he had not been there before, but he was vague. I suggested a route he could walk around to get back. We walked for around 30 seconds and then I left him behind.”

The court heard how Mr Davies helped provide an e-fit to police, but was not asked to attend an identity parade.

Evidence from two people who found Mr Wrighton’s body is due to be heard later today.

Yesterday, the trial heard how Mr Wrighton also suffered cuts to his hands during the attack, which suggested he had tried to defend himself.

Following the attack it is believed his body was dragged a short distance away to an area of brambles where the married father and grandfather was found by dog walkers.

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.

But following a hearing at the Old Bailey in London, the case was moved to Nottingham Crown Court - more than 120 miles away.

The trial continues.

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