Former soldier jailed for minimum of 28 years for murder of elderly dog walker

Peter Wrighton, 83, from Banham near East Harling.

A former soldier convicted of murdering an elderly dog walker in woodland near East Harling has been described as inflicting ‘savage and brutal’ violence on his victim in a pre-planned attack last summer.

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.

Alexander Palmer

The sentencing, held at Nottingham Crown Court today  (March 1), 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, a retired BT engineer from Banham, was discovered on Saturday, August 5 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 police photo of the scene of Peter Wrighton's murder by Alexander Palmer

A murder investigation was launched and the case received a significant breakthrough when an anonymous caller said that when receiving mental health treatment, Palmer, of Cringleford, Norfolk, 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. 

A picture Alexander Palmer took of his knife in his car

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.”

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