Essex Boys’ murder 20th anniversary: Convicted hitman will never give up fight
PUBLISHED: 14:30 05 December 2015 | UPDATED: 17:15 06 December 2015
Tomorrow it will be 20 years to the day since three Essex drug dealers were shot dead in what can arguably be described as the country’s most infamous gangland murder.
The hitman convicted of the triple-murder of Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe, on a remote track on a freezing winter’s night was 35-year-old Jack Whomes, of Brockford, near Stowmarket.
The father-of-two, who worked as a mechanic near Ipswich and was also a part-time doorman at a Stowmarket nightclub, was arrested five months later.
Whomes and co-accused Michael Steele were convicted of the three murders at the Old Bailey less than a year later.
To this day they still protest their innocence.
The case has continued to grip the public’s imagination, with films such as Essex Boys and Rise of the Foot Soldier, along with crime documentaries, made about it.
Whomes’ mother Pam has never wavered in her belief that her son is behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Her faith has led her to wage a tireless campaign for his freedom.
Now aged 77 she remains determined to see her son free but, unsurprisingly, carrying the burden of the fight has come at a cost.
Mrs Whomes said: “It’s been sheer hell. It’s been a constant fight. It has completely broken my family up. That’s what hurts me.
“It is such a struggle trying to prove his innocence. My whole life revolves around the telephone, waiting for him to call me twice a day.
“If I’m out I like to be back here so he gets an answer. It’s about keeping yourself going and keeping the remainder of the family going.
“I feel like it’s a losing battle. I just hope I live to see him walk out. I try to be strong all the time, trying to keep myself well and active, but it takes its toll, to be honest.
“Once I’m out it’s the only time I get relief – when I’m in other people’s company. For that little while you forget everything. If I didn’t do that I think I would go stark, raving mad.
“I really draw strength from the fact I have got some good legal people behind me, helping me. Everybody’s been so supportive.
“When Jack was convicted a lot of people said he did it, but a lot said he didn’t and that he was a gentle giant.
“I know when anyone comes to the village, especially to the pub, I’m pointed out, but everybody’s supportive.” Mrs Whomes said her late husband Jack and their family originally managed to keep the arrest of the son she still calls ‘Bubsy’ a secret from her.
“I didn’t know he had been arrested.
“When they went to charge him it came up on the telly.
“They showed some blokes covered up and just by the way he was walking I remember I said ‘that looks like my Bubsy’ and they [the family] said ‘yeah, it is’.
“I nearly died on the spot. They tried to keep it from me.
“I had heard about the murders, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it was him.”
Some would question why, at the age of 77, the mother-of-six keeps pursuing her son’s case.
However, she said: “How can I stop? I keep fighting because I’m determined to see him walk out a free man. I will never give up on him because I know he wouldn’t on me.”
Her faith in her son and his innocence is unshakeable.
“I know he would never, ever do anything like that. He would never have put us through the agony of all those years.
“I’ve said to him myself ‘just say you have done it and you can come home’, but he won’t.
“Jack will never give in. It’s his way of life now. He’s never going to give in.”
When asked about the future Mrs Whomes replied: “What future?
“I would like to see him go down to a different category prisoner and be at another prison nearer home so it makes it a bit easier to visit.”
Mrs Whomes said her son has used his time behind bars well.
He mentors other prisoners and has gained 26 City and Guild certificates.
In a letter the Governor of HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire stated he believes the passage of time and the positive way in which Whomes has approached his sentence has served its purpose and been his rehabilitation. The Governor wrote: “The level to which he has educated himself is truly impressive and he comes across as a man who just wants to end this chapter of his life, eventually get released, and spend the remainder of his life with his family.”
Going through the agony of losing an appeal in 2006 against her son’s conviction was tough, but it has not deterred Whomes and his mother seeking a second appeal.
She said: “It was terrible. We all thought we had won. We were sure we had won and then the night before a journalist rang us and said we had lost it.
“I have got no faith at all in the justice system.
“Sometimes I think we are bashing our heads into a brick wall, but we have just got to keep our spirits up, keep fighting and perhaps one day we will get there.”
Jack Whomes remains resolutely defiant after nearly 20 years behind bars.
The 54-year-old still vehemently proclaims he is innocent of the gangland slaying of Tucker, Tate and Rolfe.
Whomes lost his freedom more than 19 years ago, but to this day he maintains he was not their executioner.
The only real glimpse of the outside world he has had since then is being allowed out to attend the funeral of his father Jack senior in May 2011 in Bury St Edmunds.
Speaking from HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire, Whomes vowed he would never admit the murders for which he is convicted.
Despite already losing an appeal in 2006 and spending years mired in the legal system while trying to get a second, Whomes said he has not given up hope of having his conviction overturned.
His hopes hinge primarily on technological developments in being able to pinpoint signals from mobile phones. This, along with Supergrass Darren Nicholls’ evidence, were the mainstays of the prosecution’s case back in 1998.
Describing what life inside has been like for him, Whomes said: “It’s been one hell of an education in every sense of the word – 19 years incarcerated for a crime I did not commit and will never admit to. I hope to prove my innocence and walk out of the appeal courts a free man and be reunited with my family, friends and everyone who has stood by me.”
Many would admit the offences for which they were convicted if it meant shortening their sentences.
However, Whomes still refuses to countenance the idea of admitting the killings, as he did when Jack snr knew he was dying and begged him to, so his son would eventually be able to come home and look after his mum.
Whomes said: “I never committed them and after 19 years of trying to prove my innocence I’m definitely not going to say otherwise. Why admit to something I have not done?
“My heartfelt thanks go to all my friends, family and the people who have believed and supported us in this long journey.
“I hope one day you will be able to hear the truth from me.”
The case against Jack Whomes
On May 13, 1996, Jack Whomes was hosing down a boat at his workplace G and T Commercials in Barham, near Ipswich, when armed police and customs officers burst into the yard and arrested him.
Four days later he was jointly-charged with murdering Essex gangsters Tony Tucker, 38, Pat Tate, 37, and Craig Rolfe, 26.
Tucker and Tate had enjoyed fearsome reputations as hard men known for violence, retribution and drugs.
A short time before their deaths Essex police officer’s daughter Leah Betts died after taking an ecstasy tablet at a Basildon nightclub. The chain was believed to have trailed back to Tucker.
Rolfe, Tate and Tucker were lured to Workhouse Lane – a remote snow-encrusted track in Rettendon, near Chelmsford – on the evening of December 6, 1995.
There they were taken by surprise and shot while still sitting in their Range Rover.
The trio’s bodies were found the following morning.
Tucker was clutching a mobile phone, Tate was slumped on the back seat, and Rolfe was sitting in the driver’s seat.
Whomes and Michael Steele, from Ainger’s Green, Great Bentley, denied the murders, but were jailed for life in early 1998 after being convicted at the Old Bailey of the triple homicide.
He and Steele, now in his early 70s, had been named by supergrass Darren Nicholls as the killers. The alleged motive was a feud over a drug deal involving Steele which had gone wrong.
The case against them rested primarily on the word of Nicholls – a convicted criminal and police informant – who claimed he drove the men from the murder scene and named them as the killers.
Whomes and Steele still say the story Nicholls told in court was a lie.
Nicholls gave details of phone calls and meetings between himself, Whomes, Steele and the victims.
He testified Steele was behind a series of drug-smuggling runs from the continent in 1995.
A key piece of evidence in the trial centred on two mobile phone calls made by Whomes to Nicholls just before 7pm on December 6, 1995 – just minutes after he had allegedly shot dead the three victims.
The first call cut off after a few seconds and the next, Nicholls claimed, was Whomes telling him to “come and get me” from Workhouse Lane.
The calls were picked up on two different transmitters, meaning Whomes must have been using his mobile phone in an area overlapped by them – and Workhouse Lane was in the centre of it.
However, Whomes, a mechanic and doorman at Jokers nightclub in Stowmarket, had claimed he was at The Wheatsheaf pub in Rettendon to pick up Nicholls’ broken-down VW Passat.