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The Case of Margaret James

By Ben Gunn on 31/05/13

The Case of Margaret James

From Inside Time June 2013

In June 2004 the body of a rapist, gun dealer, womaniser, child abuser, and dealer in illegal porn was pulled from the sea by fishermen off the Lizard Peninsula. Peter Solheim was a man known to carry a thousand pounds in his wallet. His body appeared to have been mutilated, drugged and left to drown but the number of possible suspects in his death could have been significant. Eventually his partner, Margaret James, was convicted of conspiring to murder him and continues to protest her innocence.

Margaret James had been Solheim’s partner for several years, and had struggled with aspects of his behaviour. The Prosecution
alleged various motives for the killing. One was money, although Margaret had significant savings, and the claim that Solheim was about to leave her in favour of his long term mistress. Margaret denies these claims and says that as far as she was aware, she last saw Solheim as he waited for a friend – “Charlie” for a fishing trip, and in the days following his departure she – and his mistress – received text messages from his phone. These texts took on a huge significance at the trial.

That the police attention alighted on Margaret followed the intervention of the boyfriend of Margaret’s daughter, who was accused in Court of being a drug dealer and who was a police informer. He claimed that Margaret had asked him about finding people to kill Solheim several months before his death. There is no
corroboration to this claim and the Judge cautioned the jury about weighing the evidence from such a source.

Solheim’s personal life became a significant feature of Margaret’s trial. That Solheim had a long term mistress was accepted evidence, but the suggestion that he was about to leave Margaret for this mistress is one of the unresolved issues in this case. Margaret claims the mistress is a fantasist. Equally, the man Margaret says Solheim left with Charlie has never been found by police, the implication being that Margaret invented him as her alibi. In contrast, Charlie was also referred to by a prosecution witness, who recalled Solheim mentioning him during a conversation about buying illegal machine guns. The identity, existence and whereabouts of “Charlie” remain unresolved.

In the days following Solheim last being seen alive, and the discovery of his body, both Margaret and his mistress received texts
seemingly sent by him. They were certainly sent from Solheim’s mobile. This evidence was weighty in Court. Prosecution experts claimed that the data shows that the mobile belonging to Solheim was physically close to Margaret’s mobile. The implication being that Margaret had Solheim’s mobile and was sending the texts to herself in order to create the impression that Solheim remained alive. The Defence presented evidence to show that, because of the terrain and sparsity of mobile signal masts, Solheim’s mobile could seem to be much nearer to Margaret than it actually was and that Solheim could, in fact, have been sending these texts from a boat off the coast.

The murder of Peter Solheim attracted media attention because of its unusual elements. Solheim was a pagan priest and a witch, who
harboured books and poisonous potions that experts said in court were an impressive collection. After his death these activities took a
more sinister turn when Solheim was named in the trial of two men for ritualistic child abuse: “murder victim was in child abuse gang that used daggers and gowns to frighten young victims” was the Daily Mail headline.

The case has never been closed by the police as, even if the prosecution case is right, it is known that Margaret could not have killed Solheim alone and would have needed accomplices. Several years after the murder, two men were arrested, then released, for being his killers but neither the police, CPS nor the Courts have allowed Margaret’s lawyers to know any information about these suspects.

The case of Margaret James leaves several questions unanswered:

♦ Who else has been questioned by the police about this case? Are those arrests relevant to the safety of Margaret James’ conviction?

♦Was Peter Solheim about to leave Margaret for his long term mistress?

♦Did Solheim actually get onto his boat with a man called ‘Charlie’? Who and where is ‘Charlie’?

♦ Can the mobile phone evidence be reconciled to determine whether the texts sent after Solheim’s death came from Margaret herself or his killers out at sea?

♦ Is it possible to tell whether injuries to Peter Solheim were caused by a propeller or other injury caused after falling from a boat?

♦ Does anyone remember Peter Solheim? What can you tell us about him?

Former prisoner Ben Gunn BSc MA is a caseworker for Inside Justice. Inside Justice, part of Inside Time is funded by charitable
donations from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Newsum Charitable Trust, Inside Time and the Roddick Foundation