Dog-walker, 83, tried to defend himself against knifeman with 'strong desire to kill strangers'
PUBLISHED: 16:03 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 19:42 20 February 2018
An 83-year-old dog walker was attacked from behind and murdered in a savage knife attack carried out by a man with a strong desire to kill strangers, a court was told today.
Peter Wrighton was stabbed repeatedly to the back of his head and neck and finally through his left eye, in an attack which left his head “almost severed from his body”, Nottingham Crown Court heard.
As well as the fatal wound to his neck Mr Wrighton’s injuries included cuts to his hands which suggested he had tried to defend himself in woodland at East Harling on August 5 last year.
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.
They reported the gruesome discovery to police.
Former soldier Alexander Palmer, 24, denies murder.
Opening the prosecution case 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.
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 talked to, including those that were there at the time.
The jury of eight women and four men, who had been sworn in earlier in the day, 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 at RAF Marham that had been involved with Palmer.
Having read reports of what happened they suggested to police that Palmer, a former soldier, was 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 he 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.
Palmer, who was said to have a desire to kill strangers with a particular grudge towards dog walkers, had made references to carrying out attacks to the throat and the neck.
He said if it happened it could be anyone, just “random”.
Mr Spence said after receiving this tip off police started looking into Palmer.
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 too.
Witnesses also provided descriptions which matched Palmer.
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 good 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, wore a dark suit and appeared in court flanked by four security guards in a dock which has frosted glass sides.
Members of Mr Wrighton’s family appeared in the public gallery as well as members of the defendant’s.
There was also a sizable press contingent among those watching proceedings with national as well as local media outlets attending the trial being held in court six.
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.