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RETTENDON: Darren Nicholls admitted being 'coached' by police claims 'former protected witness'

TWO new documentaries about the notorious 1995 gangland Rettendon Range Rover murders should be released this year.

A new Sky series due to begin this month will raise questions about the convictions of Michael Steele (above left) and Jack Whomes (above right) for the murders.

Meanwhile, a separate Revelation Films documentary, being worked on, is being billed as the "final word" on the case and promises to reveal new material it says supports the testimony of supergrass Darren Nicholls, whose evidence convicted them.

However, the Sky three-part series, which begins on Saturday, will question his account with new footage of a man who alleges he was in the same protected witness unit ahead of the trial.

The man, whose identity is hidden in the documentary, claims Nicholls admitted to him that he was coached by police into what to say at the trial.

Andy Ford, (above) a former Essex Police detective who says he worked on the investigation, also admits in the documentary that the convictions of Whomes and Steele are "not 100 percent certain," as they relied too heavily on evidence of Nicholls.

Former Met Police DCI Dave McKelvey, whose private investigation firm TM-Eye spent four years reviewing the case, believes an independent police force should now reinvestigate the murders.

TM-Eye was also filmed as they found the Range Rover the victims were killed in up for sale, a situation Mr McKelvey found "remarkable."

He said: "Essex Police sold the crime scene which could potentially have still contained DNA that could be tested with future advances.

"I would like to know when and why this decision was taken."

Steele, who is due for a parole hearing next month, and Whomes, who was released in March 2021, insist they are innocent.

The series charts how criminals Tony Tucker, 38, Pat Tate, 37, and Craig Rolfe, 26, took control of the Essex supply of drugs to the illegal rave scene that developed in the early 1990s, but their stranglehold collapsed in the wake of the death of Leah Betts after she took one of their ecstasy pills on her 18th birthday.

The three were found shot dead in the Range Rover in Rettendon, near Basildon, on the morning of December 7 1995.

Whomes, 59, and Steele, 78, were convicted in May 1998.

It is alleged Steele travelled with the three on the pretence of a drugs deal but Whomes was waiting with a shotgun.

No forensics linked them to the scene so the case rested on Nicholl's evidence, who turned supergrass, claiming to be their getaway driver following his May 1996 arrest over a 10kg cannabis importation.

He said they asked him to drive them to a cocaine deal, but carried out the murders instead.

Mr McKelvey (above) and former DCS Albert Patrick (below) interview a man who claimed to be in the same protected witness cell block as Nicholls before the trial.

It was after the man, who asked to remain anonymous, was allegedly caught manufacturing ecstasy.

He said: "Everyone had heard about the Range Rover murders and (Nicholls) would hold court.

"He proceeded to tell me what he was going to say on the witness stand and that he was coached by police.

"They wanted him to memorise this timeline in specific detail, but he was frightened of getting that script wrong."

Asked why he hadn't come forward before the trial, he said he assumed there must have been a "wide raft" of forensic evidence with Nicholl's account just the "icing on the cake".

Former Essex Police detective Andy Ford said: "Was (their conviction) 100 percent concrete? No, I don't think so. "There are times you can say it is 100 percent watertight - this is not a 100 per cent sure case - it relied on one person's evidence."

Ivan Dibley, (below) the senior investigating officer on the original investigation admitted there had never been media pressure like it to solve a case, but maintained the right men were convicted.

He said there was scant evidence at the murder scene and an element of Nicholls "saving his own skin."

He added: "I am pretty certain Nicholls would have been handled correctly. At the end of the day police don't coach. He knew a lot about them.

"What Darren Nicholls told the court was examined in minute detail and the jury believed what he was saying."

TM-Eye examined the account of a police informant "Witness A" after he was arrested weeks after the murders who claimed to have driven a different lone gunman to the murder scene and that the men were killed over the proceeds of an armed robbery.

Mr McKelvey said his account was ruled out by police much too early.

Nicholls said Whomes called to be picked up at 6.59pm, but Witness A said the murders were later at around midnight.

Farmer Steve Rogers tells the documentary he was feeding his horses at midnight on the night and heard several gunshots at the time.

Witness A said the gunman was wearing trainers and the only footprint found near the Range Rover was a trainer print.

Former Met Police detective Roly Baker, who said he used Witness A as an informant, said his account should have been examined thoroughly as he had provided reliable information.

In episode three a former armed robber, who kept his identity hidden, gave the same motive for the murders as Witness A and said he had been there when the hot was arranged and it was not involving Whomes or Steele.

Tate's last phone call was made from his Basildon home at just after 6pm so Mr McKelvey and Mr Patrick drove the route the three victims are said to have taken to the murder scene and in better driving conditions were unable to get there before 7pm.

Mr McKelvey said: "This casts doubt on Nicholl's claim Whomes called him at 6.59pm after they were dead. We were effectively late for the murders."

Whomes claimed he was at a nearby pub in connection with a vehicle repair when he made that call, but mobile phone expert David Bristowe told TM-Eye his tests for an earlier appeal call disproved this.

He found it was not possible to connect to the cell tower Whomes' phone had connected to from the murder scene, but it was from the pub.

TM-Eye took forensic scientist Angela Gallop to examine the Range Rover where it was found at a car dealer's in Newark.

She said if Steele had travelled in it with the three victims as the prosecution claimed she was surprised he left no fibres at all in the vehicle, but that the records showed it had not been examined at the scene for very long before being moved.

Mr McKelvey said Essex Police had effectively sold the crime scene.

He said: "This is remarkable in itself as it should have been kept as might might still contain DNA that could have been identified with advances in science. I would be interested to know when it was sold, why and who made the decision. If you look at the Lee Balkwell case Essex Police still has the cement mixer where he died."We asked Essex Police when the decision was taken to sell it, who took it and why.

A force spokeswoman did not answer any of the specific questions, but said: "The RangeRover was subject to extensive forensic examination and was part of a thorough investigation, which resulted in the conviction of Michael Steele and Jack Whomes."

Reformed former south London gangster Dave Courtney, 64, (above) said he met Whomes and Steele said he was on remand in Belmarsh when he met Whomes and Steele before their trial.

He said he did not know who killed the three but Steele had an aura about him and if he told Whomes to do something he would do it.

Ex-crook Carlton Leach, (below) a close friend of Tuckers, said he believed Steele had arranged the meeting as a reconnaissance for a drugs drop to pacify the three after he sold them a bad batch of cannabis.

He said: "Everyone thinks I know who killed them. I don't know, it's all whispers and rumours, but if Mickey Steele had took them there, he took them to their deaths."

An Essex Police Spokesman said: “This case has been back before the Court of Appeal twice and rejected.

"It was also reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission who, as recently as January 2023, decided not to refer it back to the court.

"The case has been exhaustively examined over the last 27-years and there is no fresh evidence identified which would call the original verdicts into question.”

Whomes and Steele are understood to be appealing this decision.

The Essex Murders part one is on Sky on Saturday, April 15.

The separate Revelation Films documentary is said to be in post production and its makers say it will be "the last word in documentaries about the Rettendon Murders."

It is said it will feature "exclusive footage" that "stands up" key aspects of Nicholl's evidence from two independent sources as to motive.

Top image, Essex Police - all others, Sky.


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