top of page

ESSEX BOYS MURDERS: Rettendon killer Michael Steele blames 'police corruption' for 'wron

CONVICTED Essex Boys killer Michael Steele (pictured above) blamed alleged "police corruption" for him being "wrongly convicted" of the notorious triple murders during a failed bid to be moved to an open prison.

Steele, 76, insisted he and co-defendant Jack Whomes, 57, had been wrongly convicted in 1998 because of the actions of "corrupt" police officers during a Parole Board hearing.

He also said he believed he should be transferred to an open prison without having to address a "tendency to use violence that could cause serious harm."

A Parole Board panel heard that Steele, who has always insisted he is innocent of the murders, has never taken part in any offender behaviour programmes to address the use of violence, during more than 22 years in prison. Drug dealers Pat Tate, 37, Tony Tucker, 38, and Craig Rolfe, 26, were found shot dead in a Range Rover in an isolated track in Rettendon, near Basildon in December 1995. Steele and associate Jack Whomes, 57, were convicted in January 1998 after supergrass Darren Nichols gave evidence that he drove them to carry out the murders and mobile phone evidence placed them in the area at the time.

Essex Boys Murders

CAGED: Steele (left) and Whomes deny they carried out the gangland executions (Essex Police)

Whomes was transferred to Hollesley Bay open prison in Suffolk last year, and began working a six day week as a mechanic after being branded a model prisoner, and he is expected to be released after a Parole Board hearing later this year. However, Steele's first ever Parole Board hearing was less successful, with the application rejected. Steele appealed on grounds that he was falsely accused during the hearing of a number of things, including having early signs of dementia, a firearms conviction, a caution for mail he received, and not having been assessed for offender management programmes. He also claimed that witnesses in support of his case not called to give evidence and he was routinely interrupted by the panel while representing himself.

MURDERED: Tate (left), Tucker (middle) and Rolfe were shot in an isolated lane (Essex Police) Judge James Orrell wrote in his verdict: "The panel accepted there had been a dispute about the offending behaviour programme but identified the important factors as, first, the applicant was currently prepared to go on the programme but, secondly, he did not think it was necessary. "Those two factors were in the panel’s opinion, subject to the overarching problem that during the course of his sentence, the applicant had done no offending behaviour work designed to reduce his risk of causing serious harm. "The other two entries relate to observations that may suggest the applicant could be entering the very early stages of dementia; that was a extremely worrying suggestion for the applicant to cope with; happily, subsequent investigation has shown the suggestion was not correct; but importantly for this exercise, it is plain that this was not a factor in the decision making process one way or the other. "Additionally, two matters persuade me the panel did not take any account of the alleged caution."

SCENE: The bodies inside the Range Rover as photographed by Essex Police

The Judge said Steele also went off at tangents about being wrongfully convicted, police corruption and other matters.

He added: "I have detected a preoccupation with at least five topics: his belief in his wrongful conviction for murder, the failure to be transferred to open conditions, the failure to be downgraded to category B status, corruption within a named police force and lately a preoccupation that witnesses at the oral hearing committed perjury. "I wonder whether his manner of presentation quite naturally attracted interruption." He rejected the appeal, advising Steele to use a lawyer at his next hearing. He won't be eligible to apply for release until 2023, but could make a fresh application to be transferred to an open prison in early 2022.

A Parole Board spokesman said: "Lifers typically get a review every two years. This will almost definitely be the case for Mr Steele."

In 1998 Nicholls told the Old Bailey he drove Whomes and Steele to the farm track on December 6, 1995.

TRAGIC: Leah Betts (left) and in the image on a life-support machine (Betts family)

He said the two men then blasted the three drug dealers to death with shotguns. The victims were suspected of being the suppliers of a batch of ecstasy pills that led to the death of Leah Betts, 18. An image of her on a life support machine made national headlines as a warning to others. Several films have been made about the murders, including the original Essex Boys in 2000, starring Sean Bean, Larry Lamb and Tom Wilkinson. The Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) has been reviewing the convictions of Whomes and Steele for the past two years after they provided a new dossier of evidence. The review centres on a confidential Met Police corruption report called Operation Tiberius, which detailed how the force had intelligence on a London gang boss offering to a former detective to "take out" the people who supplied drugs to Leah Betts. This intelligence was never placed before the jury at their trial. A CCRC spokesman said: "The case remains under review."

bottom of page