Freedom hopes for 'triple killers'

TWO men convicted of the notorious slaying of three Essex drug barons have been given their strongest hope of freedom after a judge said it was a "possibility" their convictions would be overturned.

By Danielle Nuttall

TWO men convicted of the notorious slaying of three Essex drug barons have been given their strongest hope of freedom after a judge said it was a "possibility" their convictions would be overturned.

Jack Whomes and Michael Steele, who were convicted of the Rettendon murders in 1998, received the news despite being refused bail during a hearing in London's High Court yesterday .

Mr Justice Holland accepted there was a "possibility" of the convictions being overturned at a forthcoming appeal - although prosecution lawyers said they would seek a retrial if that happened.


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Speaking after the hearing, Whomes' brother John, from Stowmarket, said the refusal of the bail application was a minor setback, but said he was even more confident of victory at appeal.

"We are home and dry with the appeal," he claimed.

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"He (the judge) did say that the appeal would probably be successful. It's a strong indication.

"We know what we are up against. We are on the home straight now."

Whomes, from Brockford, and Steele, of Aingers Green, Great Bentley, were jailed for life at the Old Bailey in January 1998 of the murders of gangsters Pat Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe.

The three victims were said to have been ambushed in their Range Rover on an isolated farm track in Rettendon on December 6, 1995. They were shot in the head at close range.

Steele, 61, a self-employed engineer, and Whomes, 42, a self-employed mechanic, have always protested their innocence.

Prosecution lawyers said yesterday they would seek a retrial of the infamous 'Essex Boys' murder case if Whomes and Steele won their appeals.

Crown counsel John Dodd said they would 'strenuously' contest their allegations of a police cover-up in relation to the reliability of a key witness, supergrass Darren Nicholls, who claimed he was the pair's getaway driver from the murder scene.

Mr Justice Holland refused to grant Whomes and Steele bail, saying there were "no exceptional circumstances" despite submissions by defence counsel that the forthcoming appeal was highly likely to succeed.

Initial appeal moves in the case failed, but last December the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

The gangland shootings have also featured in a film starring Sean Bean.

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