ESSEX BOYS MURDERS: Did Brink's Mat crook order notorious killings and why was he never questioned?
EXCLUSIVE: A TOP-tier criminal, who laundered millions of pounds from the Brink's-Mat robbery, was named to police as the organiser of the notorious Essex Boys murders, but they never questioned him about the killings, a team of former detectives claims. 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, on the morning of December 7 1995, in what became the country's most notorious gangland assassinations and was the subject of several movies. Three years later Michael Steele, 77, and Jack Whomes, 58, were convicted of the murders 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 former murder detectives claim to have unearthed a significant line of inquiry into a row, between Tucker and other known criminals over the proceeds of an armed robbery, that they say was never properly investigated and they believe it could have led to a serious miscarriage of justice.
Former Met Police DCI Dave McKelvey, now boss of private investigation firm TM Eye (pictured above in his firm's Rettendon murders incident room), is leading the review which is focussed on statements made by criminal Billy Jasper. Jasper told police four months before Nicholls made his statements that he was the getaway driver for a different killer and that Brink's-Mat money launderer Patsy "bolt eyes" Clark (pictured top at the notorious Astor nightclub in Mayfair) had ordered the hit. Mr McKelvey said: "They had the name of a major criminal, said to be behind the murders, the gunman, a credible motive and intelligence linking Tucker to these people and money from the robbery. "They also had the account of the man claiming to be the getaway driver, but chose to dismiss what he said, even with the intelligence, because it did not fit with their blinkered theory about Whomes (pictured below) and Steele."
Nicholls told the Old Bailey the three victims were lured there by Whomes and Steele on the pretence of a drug deal, but were instead blasted to death. The prosecution said they were shot between 6.48pm and 6.59pm the night before the bodies were found. Whomes, who was released on parole after 23 years in March and Steele (below), have always insisted they are innocent and the real killers escaped justice. There was no forensic evidence linking them to the scene and the prosecution relied on mobile phone cell site evidence, which was later found unreliable at a Court of Appeal hearing.
TM Eye has spent more than a year looking through the case files for an independent review after learning of concerns about the case and has not been contracted by the defence.
The team includes former Met Police DCS Albert Patrick, who was involved in investigations into serial killer Colin Ireland and reviews of the murders of Rachel Nickell and Damilola Taylor, and two other seasoned former senior murder detectives. Mr McKelvey described Mr Jasper's account as "compelling" and fitting with intelligence available to the original investigation team and that known to the former detectives who spent years investigating serious organised crime in London and Essex.
Patsy "Bolt Eyes" Clark, (above from Facebook) a former scrap dealer and nightclub owner, died aged 81 in November 2019. In 1992 he was jailed for six years for laundering more than £4.2 million of the proceeds of the infamous 1983 £26 million gold bullion robbery of the Brink's Mat warehouse at Heathrow Airport. Jasper gave Essex Police his name and a motive for wanting the three men dead, early on in the investigation, but TM Eye says Clark was never even interviewed. Jasper gave defence evidence at Whomes and Steele's trial that he was the real getaway driver for a different lone gunman, who is still alive and was also never interviewed. He was prevented by the judge from giving any names or background about the armed robbery, apart from that of Jesse Gale who he said supplied a back-up Browning pistol for the hit, because he died in a car crash before the trial.
STATEMENT: Jasper told police he drove a lone killer to the scene before Darren Nicholls gave his version
Mr Jasper had to refer in court to the alleged assassin he said he drove as Mr D. Jasper was arrested on suspicion of a separate robbery on January 14 1996, just over a month after the murders. He hand wrote a statement in his cell saying he had been paid £5,000 to drive Mr D, who he named, to the murder scene on the night the three were killed. Jasper asked to speak to detectives investigating the murders and said he wanted protection as he feared he would be killed for "knowing too much."
His account said the murders stemmed from money owed after a security van armed robbery.
The robbery (detailed above in a news report from the time) was identified as a Group 4 armed robbery in Dagenham, east London on October 4 1989, which he said was masterminded by Patsy Clark who did not take part in the actual robbery. A group of four robbers led by an associate of Tucker netted more than £400,000 after taking the van to a car park in Hainault Forest. Mr McKelvey said police intelligence said two of the robbers went to Spain, leaving associate Tony Tucker to launder the money through the door security contract he had at various nightclubs in Romford. On their return to the UK, the four were charged and later convicted of the robbery at Chelmsford Crown Court in April 1991, each getting 15 years each. But they later got released on appeal in 1994 and wanted their money back. Mr Jasper told police that Clark was owed £300,000 and arranged the murders through an east End crime family who supplied the pump-action shotgun and a Fiat Uno on false plates and got Mr D in as the assassin and a back-up gun for the job was provided by Gale.
REVIEW: Essex News and Investigations had access to TM Eye's Rettendon murders incident room (Jon Austin)
Mr McKelvey said: "The intelligence is that Tucker started spending the money but when they got out he was unable to pay it back. "So Clark allegedly arranged for the murders. Tucker, Tate and Rolfe were lured to the scene to supply 4kg of cocaine. "Further intelligence linked the armed robbers to Mr D through the ownership of a bar, and Tucker to the armed robbers through door security work." Tucker was interviewed about the robbery after it happened, but not arrested. Associates of Clark were named as people of interest in intelligence during the murder inquiry, Mr McKelvey said.
He added: "Another associate of Clark's thought to be involved in money laundering was one of the last people to be phoned by Tate at 6.26pm for 17 seconds on the day they were shot, but despite the possible significance of this phone call he was also never interviewed." Jasper's account, which said the murders were later at around midnight, was initially investigated and he took detectives to a location away from the access to the farm track where the bodies were found. He said Mr D had walked across a field, which was later found to be less than a mile from the crime scene, before returning to the getaway car. But, senior detectives chose to not investigating further after saying Jasper's account was not in line with the strategic direction of the investigation. Mr Patrick said: "Jasper's account has never been professionally examined. All this should have been bottomed out. "Those named should have asked where were you on the night? Who were you with? And phone records looked at, but we can't see any of this was done." Whomes and Steele, who remains a category A prisoner, have failed in a number of appeal bids. Their latest application was made to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in May 2018, but there has yet to be an outcome. An Essex Police spokeswoman said: "There was an exhaustive police investigation and, following the trial and convictions, the evidence has been further examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Court of Appeal. "This case is currently under review with the CCRC and, and it would be inappropriate to comment further whilst their review is ongoing. "We of course always fully co-operate with the CCRC and would take direction from them about any investigative action required. Any new evidence identified should be routed through the CCRC for their consideration."