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RETTENDON BOMBSHELL: Trainer print 'inches from cartridge at Essex Boys murder scene missed by police nearly 30 years ago'

WHAT appear to resemble Reebok trainer footprints in crime scene photographs taken after the Essex Boys triple murders were missed by police nearly 30 years ago, a former detective reviewing the case believes.

Former Met Police DCI Dave McKelvey believes the discovery of "three clear trainer prints" in crime scene pictures, could blow the case back open.

He says it supports the account of an organised criminal who claimed to be the getaway driver for the "true killer" or killers four months before supergrass Darren Nicholls was arrested and said he drove Jack Whomes and Michael Steele from the scene.

Mr McKelvey is convinced there has been a major miscarriage of justice and that Steele, 80, and Whomes, 61, who were jailed for life for the murders in 1998 are likely to be innocent.

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 the subject of several movies.

Three years later Michael Steele, 80, and Jack Whomes, 61, were convicted of the murders, largely on the evidence of Nicholls, who claimed to be their getaway driver after his arrest over a cannabis importation in May 1996.

It was four months after east end crook Billy Jasper made his confession to Essex Police after he was arrested for a robbery in January 1996 - and he named an alleged gunman, who he said was wearing Reebok trainers.

Mr McKelvey, now boss of private investigation firm TM Eye, has been reviewing the case with a team of former murder detectives for the past five years.

He was already convinced by Jasper's account before finding the footprint in a copy of a crime scene photograph buried in the case files.

The discovery was after his team had already sent a 132-page report raising several issues with Whomes and Steele's convictions to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC).

Mr McKelvey said: "Essex Police's investigation was blinkered on Whomes and Steele from the outset so they dismissed Jasper's credible account even though he gave them 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 an armed 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 and Steele.

"They never did any investigations to corroborate what Jasper said beyond taking him up to the scene.

"Now we have found these footprints which are from a Reebok trainer just like Jasper said the killer was wearing. This could be one of the most significant developments to date.

"This should be enough to reopen the case, as it casts doubt on the guilt of Steele and Whomes and suggests the real perpetrator(s) evaded justice.”

Nicholls, 30 at the time of the murders, told the Old Bailey that Whomes and Steele wore brand new wellington boots, but no such footprints were found at the scene, which had a light covering of snow.

It is understood that only one footprint was found and exhibited from the crime scene - a size ten Hi-Tec right footed Slamdunker trainer print in the snow at the rear offside passenger door.

The Reebok print is pictured on the opposite side of the Range Rover at the rear nearside, suggesting two men wearing trainers were stood either side.

Images seen by Essex News and Investigations show what appears to be a Reebok left trainer print just inches from a spent shotgun cartridge and the rear nearside wheel of the Range Rover.

A TM-Eye report on the discovery states: "The position of the print aligns with where the gunman stood to fire shots seven and eight into Tate through the rear nearside window.

"The orientation of the trainer print matches the forensic analysis of the shooter's position.

"The new evidence raises further serious questions about the validity of their convictions, particularly given that the prosecution's case hinged on the assumption that they were wearing Wellington boots, not Reebok trainers."

TM-Eye believes a partial right foot print can be seen in one of the images.

Nicholls told the Old Bailey the three victims were lured there by Steele, who was with the victims in the Range Rover, on the pretence of a drug deal, but were instead blasted to death after Whomes emerged from bushes with two shotguns.

The prosecution said the three were shot between 6.48pm and 6.59pm the night before the bodies were found.

Nicholls admitted to drug trafficking and received a light sentence for turning Queen's evidence.

He has lived under witness protection under a different identity ever since.

The case was mired in corruption as Nicholls had corrupt relations with an Essex Police officer and had also signed a book deal before giving his evidence.

Steele's (above left) parole hearing is due to resume nearly a year after it was adjourned last summer.

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.

However, Whomes and Steele were in the area surrounding the scene on the day, with Whomes (above right) claiming it was in connection with

his broken-down VW Passat.

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 and said the murders were much later at around midnight.

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.

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 was identified as a Group 4 armed robbery in Dagenham, east London on October 4 1989.

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 (above) 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 the murders were arranged, due to money Tucker owed, 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.

Tucker was interviewed about the robbery after it happened, but not arrested.

Jasper's account 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.

Whomes, who was released on parole in March 2021, and Steele, who remains a category A prisoner, have failed in a number of appeal bids.

Steele told the court he was at home, 40 miles from the murder scene in Great Bentley, near Colchester, an around 55-minute drive, just half an hour after the three were killed, meaning he "couldn't have been there."

Witnesses backed his claim saying they could remember Coronation Street coming on at 7.30pm.

However, a documentary - Murder Of The Essex Boys: Blood And Betrayal - released on digital streams in October found evidence which disputed his claim.

It revealed that the programme was delayed until 9.20pm because a Champions League football match between Blackburn Rovers and Norwegian side Rosenborg was being televised live on ITV, according to archive TV listings.

The documentary claimed to prove once and for all that Whomes and Steele were rightly convicted.

Paul Maleary, a junior Essex Police detective, at the time of the murders, featured in the documentary and said he believed it was a "Solid conviction" and there was no "miscarriage of justice."

He said: "I personally think this documentary has been the final piece in the middle of that jigsaw and hopefully will put the conspiracy theories to bed."

Speculation about the case is unlikely to end following the discovery of the Reebok footprint.

Mr McKelvey added: "The CCRC should now take a serious look at the findings in our report and, more importantly take note of the new footprint evidence."

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

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


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