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ESSEX BOYS MURDERS: CCRC taking new look at case as ex-detectives claim it was 'mired in corruption'

AN application to review the convictions of the Rettendon Range Rover killers is being assessed by the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) after a probe by a team of former Met Police detectives claimed to uncover anomalies and failings in the original investigation and a case "mired in corruption."

Allegations of Essex Police detectives on the case being involved in corruption are made in a 132-page dossier sent to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC).

Drug dealers Pat Tate, 37, Tony Tucker, 38, and Craig Rolfe, 26, were found shot dead in a Range Rover on an isolated farm track in Rettendon, near Basildon, by two farmers at 8am on December 7 1995.

In January 1998 Michael Steele, 81, and Jack Whomes, 62, were convicted of the murders. They maintain they are innocent.

The prosecution case centred largely on the evidence of supergrass Darren Nicholls, who claimed to be their getaway driver after his arrest over a cannabis importation in May 1996.

The report, which took four years to produce, flagged a statement made by a senior Essex Police detective in which he revealed that he was informed about the murders by a drug squad officer at 6.30am the same morning - an hour and a half before the 999 call from the farmers.

During an earlier CCRC review of the case the detective in question was contacted and asked about his section 9 statement which said he was informed of the murders at 6.30am.

he told the CCRC investigator his time had been "an estimate" and he could not remeber who on the drug squad had told him and he could offer no further explanation for the time discrepancy.

Former Met Police DCI Dave McKelvey runs private investigation firm TM-Eye behind the report.

He said: "In a statement, he said he was told by a drug squad officer Tate and Tucker's bodies had been identified an hour and a half before the farmers found them. We know Tate and Tucker were under surveillance by Essex Police, yet remarkably this anomaly was never investigated further."

The earlier CCRC review, however, concluded that the three had not been under surveillance on the day that they died.

Other claims in the report, following contact with former Essex detective whistleblowers, include:

*An undercover officer was drunk during a phone call on a failed sting operation to nail the killers

*Officers on the same job "destroyed" a recording of the call

*Detectives "stole" recordings of the phone call and others made by Steele from his home

A CCRC spokesman said: “Applications have been received from Mr Steele and Mr Whomes, and a review is underway.

“It would be inappropriate for us to discuss the applications from Mr Steele (below right) and Mr Whomes (below left), any material received from third parties, or make further comment while the applications are being reviewed.”

The CCRC review was launched in January after their defence handed it the TM-Eye report.

The defence asked TM-Eye to independently review the case in 2019, but they were not commissioned by them and have not been paid for the work.

With four former murder SIOs, with extensive knowledge of organised crime in the area from the time, backed by more ex-homicide detectives, and access to a top pathologist and forensics experts, it is thought to be one of the most extensive cold case reviews carried out by retired police officers in the country.

Mr McKelvey (below) said: "We had access to the defence case files, but have also interviewed about 30 former and serving officers with knowledge of the case and corruption investigations and about 30 other non police witnesses."

The murders were 21 days after the death of police man's daughter Leah Betts, who died on her 18th birthday, after she took an ecstasy tablet that was sourced from the former Raquel's nightclub in Basildon, where victim Tucker controlled the door security and supply of drugs.

The murders featured in the 2000 film Essex Boys starring Sean Bean which spawned several more, including the Rise of the Footsoldier series from 2007.

Whomes, who was released from prison in 2021, and Steele, who has a parole hearing about to resume, failed to overturn the convictions at the Court of Appeal in 1999 following their first CCRC application.

The CCRC then looked at the case and its first review led to it being referred back to the Court of Appeal in 2004, which rejected the appeal in 2006.

In 2007 and then late 2014 the CCRC examined the case again, but there were no referrals to the court.

The last CCRC review, which began in 2018, concerned a secret police recording of a London crime boss who told a suspected corrupt former Met Police detective who could get the three killed because of their involvement in supplying the drug to Leah Betts.

The conversation was recorded on the day Leah died during a Scotland Yard bugging operation of the crime boss and detailed in a 2002 Met anti-corruption report, but details had never been disclosed to Whomes and Steele's defence.

The CCRC review closed in 2023 without a referral to the court.

Mr McKelvey added: "I always assumed the right people had been convicted before we looked into this. But, now I'm convinced of a major miscarriage of justice. The investigation was blinkered from the outset and failed to properly investigate an earlier credible motive for the murders from a man who claimed to be the getaway driver for a named assassin four months before Nicholls did.

"There is a whole stench about this case of corruption, dishonesty and lack of disclosure."

TM-Eye has produced a supplementary report after identifying what it believes are footprints in murder scene photographs, that were never previously identified, and "could match" the prints of the Reebok trainers that the first alleged getaway driver claimed the killer wore.

An Essex Police spokesman said: “There has been an exhaustive police investigation into the murders of Pat Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe (left to right above) in Rettendon on 6 December 1995, which resulted in the conviction of Michael Steele and Jack Whomes for their murder.

“Since then, this case has been back before the Court of Appeal twice, in 1999 and 2006. These appeals have included focus upon key evidential aspects of the case. Both appeals were rejected and in 2006 Lord Justice Kay commented that there was no 'element of unsafety' relating to the original convictions of both defendants.

“This case has also been reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) who, as recently as January 2023, took the decision not to refer this case back to the Court of Appeal.

“This case has been exhaustively examined over the last 27-years, with no fresh evidence identified which would call the original verdicts into question. We will of course always work with the CCRC and keep any new information under review.”

Dean Kingham, Steele’s solicitor: said: "There is a such a clear argument that the level of non-disclosure was such that the conviction was ultimately unfair. 

It is obvious given what is now known that two innocent men were convicted. The wrongful conviction must be righted and importantly for the families of the deceased the correct people brought to justice. 

The CCRC must do the right thing and refer the case to the Court of Appeal. The team is all confident the Court of Appeal would then quash the convictions."

David Wells, Whomes’s solicitor, added: "I have always remained confident in Jack’s innocence, and I remain equally optimistic about the outcome of this current review."


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