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ESSEX BOYS MURDERS: Deputy SIO 'in relationship' with Craig Rolfe's girlfriend who became prosecution witness


A KEY prosecution witness on the "Essex Boys" triple murder trial had an inappropriate relationship with a senior investigating officer who was later investigated for corruption, but full details were never disclosed to the defence, it has been alleged.

Essex Police also secretly bugged the home of murder victim Pat Tate's ex girlfriend, a team of former senior murder detectives claim in a report following a four-year review of the case.

Last week it emerged that the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC), which can refer cases to the Court of Appeal, was reviewing an application by convicted killers Michael Steele, 81, and Jack Whomes, 62, after it was handed a 132-page dossier, which it is alleged has uncovered a series of anomalies and failings in the original investigation and that the case was "mired in corruption."

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 Steele and Whomes 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 new report by private investigation firm TM-Eye claims that details and the outcome of a corruption probe into the late George Florence (below), deputy SIO on the murders, was never disclosed to Steele and Whomes' legal team, with the CPS branding it "unrelated."

TM Eye states in the report that it was contacted by a former Essex Police officer who said the force mounted a covert corruption investigation into DI Florence, in relation to high value stolen cars, and a possible connection to Tate through the south Essex car trade.

Before the trial the defence requested details of Operation Grenadier, but the CPS declined, claiming in a letter dated 16th September 1997 that it was an "unrelated matter", the report said.

Allegations that Mr Florence was romantically involved with Rolfe's girlfriend Donna Jaggers (top image) were being made before the trial, but it was not officially disclosed.

TM-Eye boss, Dave McKelvey, (above) a former Met Police DCI, believes it should have been and now Essex Police should release any information it has on this to the defence.

He said: "There were suspicions around Florence and Ms Jaggers being romantically involved ahead of the trial, but this was never officially disclosed.

"If this was the case he should not have been allowed to be involved with her as a witness and the defence should have had all the information and been able to cross examine witnesses about this.

"Essex Police must now disclose everything it has about this and the corruption investigation into Florence so it is available to the new CCRC review."

He said this was particularly important as Mr Florence dealt with her as a protected witness, who corroborated some of Nicholls' evidence.

He also collected a loaded Ingram Mac 10 machine gun she had been in possession of just over a month after the murders without arresting her or taking a statement from her for nearly a month.

On February 8 1996 she gave her first witness statement which admitted to knowing that Rolfe got the gun in November 1995 and she kept it in a loft after the murders until Mr Florence came to collect it on January 11.

FLASHBACK: A September 1997 Observer article about the corruption probe into Florence - but he was later awarded damages from the paper

Ms Jaggers was never charged in connection with the firearm.

She went on to become a key prosecution witness who implicated Steele in the murders and picked him out in an identification parade.

Mr McKelvey said: "Florence made some startling decisions not to prosecute her, despite her admissions to having a loaded machine gun, ammunition, and silencer in her home and being involved in wide scale drug dealing.

"Nor did Essex police ever disclosed any details of corruption investigation investigation into Florence and the CPS claimed in a letter dated 16th September 1997 that this was an ‘unrelated matter’.

"Any allegation of dishonesty by a senior officer so intrinsically involved in the Rettendon Murders investigation cannot simply be ignored and dismissed. Florence knew Tate and was the conduit to Donna Jaggers being a prosecution witness.

In a case where the defence was alleging manipulation of evidence by Nicholls, then such material should have been disclosed."

Jaggers was placed into witness protection after the trial and it has not been possible to approach her for comment.

In a separate twist, the report claims Essex Police placed a bug in the flat of Sarah Saunders and her new boyfriend during a botched undercover sting operation.

Ms Saunders had left Tate before he was killed and was living in the home of the new partner near Brentwood at the time in February 1996.

Operation Century was an undercover job in which the force got two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch officers to try to infiltrate Steele by posing as violent paramilitary criminals claiming to have been involved in a drugs deal with Tate prior the murders, who he owed £40,000 to.

It was a similar "entrapment" ploy used by the Met Police on Colin Stagg during the earlier Rachel Nickell murder probe, which was later discredited.

Some details of Century were disclosed to the trial, but Mr McKelvey claims much of the detail was not.

He said: "The intention was to persuade Steele that Tate had been engaged in a drug deal with them in the hope that Steele would disclose vital evidence or implicate himself in the murders, but he never did.

There were at least four telephone calls from the undercover officers to Steele on his landline, on February 5, 9, 12 and 26 1996.

Sarah Saunders was also called by them and threatened on February 26, despite the recent death of Tate who was father to their young son.

Mr McKelvey said: "A former Essex officer contacted us in June 2022 to say that there was a covert entry of the flat to deploy a listening probe. It is remarkable that this would be done to someone who had been the partner of one of the murder victims.

"Essex police never disclosed the covert entry, the deployment of a covert listening device or any material from that device to the defence.

"We formally requested disclosure of the probe material from Essex Police, but it replied that it "would never confirm or deny the use of covert policing tactics."

The recording v of the first call to Steele was not disclosed at trial, with the prosecution saying the recorder malfunctioned.

But, Mr McKelvey said another former Essex officer involved in Century made contact and claimed that the officer who made the call was drunk at the time and went too far with the threats, so it was "destroyed."

After securing no in criminating evidence Century was cancelled.

Mr McKelvey said that it was of major significance that during Nicholls' first two interviews, after he agreed to give evidence, officers made reference to the Mullock brothers and a drugs debt, that he is convinced was a reference to the two fictitious characters the Northern Irish officers portrayed.

He said: "They were never mentioned again, which suggests manipulation of evidence, but the interviewing officers had not been properly briefed about the end of Century."

The report said Steele had recorded all the phone calls, including the one never disclosed by the prosecution, and kept them with a compromising photograph of him meeting with a police officer.

It added that Ms Saunders had disclosed the fact Steele held these recordings to an officer on the murder probe she was close to.

Steele's home was searched by Essex Police on May 14 1996 and the recordings went missing.

A CCRC spokesman said: "A CCRC spokesperson 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 and Mr Whomes, any material received from third parties, or make further comment while the applications are being reviewed.”

An Essex Police spokesperson said: "There has been an exhaustive police investigation into the murders, which resulted in the convictions. “Since then, this case has been back before the Court of Appeal. “These appeals have included focus upon key residential aspects of the case. “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. We will of course always work with the CCRC and keep any new information under review.”


APPEAL TIMELINE:

WHOMES and Steele immediately tried to appeal their conviction, but in 1999 leave to go to the Court of Appeal was rejected.

The CCRC then looked at the case and its first review led to it being referred back to the Court of Appeal, 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 ecstasy tablet that killed Leah Betts 21 days before the murders.

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.





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