Murder appeal verdict delayed

TWO men appealing against their convictions for a triple gangland murder will have to wait at least a week before being told if it has been successful.

By Danielle Nuttall

TWO men appealing against their convictions for a triple gangland murder will have to wait at least a week before being told if it has been successful.

Michael Steele, 62, of Great Bentley, and Jack Whomes, 44, of Brockford, near Eye, are serving life sentences for the 1995 murders of Patrick Tate, Anthony Tucker and Craig Rolfe, who were found dead in a Range Rover on an isolated farm track in Rettendon, near Chelmsford.

The case has been referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission after fresh evidence revealed the central prosecution witness in the trial - supergrass Darren Nicholls - sold his story to a publisher more than a year before giving evidence against the pair in court.

Nicholls, who claimed he drove Steele and Whomes away from the crime scene, was also allegedly part of an agreement for a television documentary with broadcast company LWT.

At the Court of Appeal yesterday, Whomes and Steele' anxious families, who have been present throughout the five-day hearing, were told the outcome of the appeal would not be made public for at least a week - and possibly up to one month.

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Final submissions were made by Crown barrister Andrew Munday QC, in which he told the court that contact between Nicholls and media representatives keen to buy his story did not affect the reliability of his evidence as he had already given and recorded detailed statements to police.

“The revelations that were ultimately portrayed were merely confirmatory of the accounts he had given in interview or in evidence,” he said.

During the appeal, it had been claimed Nicholls could not have set up contact with journalist Tony Thompson, with a view to sealing a book deal, without Essex Police 'facilitating' the contact because he was in protective custody.

But Mr Munday denied the police officers given the job of looking after him knew anything about the alleged media deals Nicholls had struck.

“Clearly the Crown must concede there was media contact,” he said.

But he added: “The failure was based on ignorance and not upon knowledge on the part of those who had contact in the case.”

Mr Munday told the court Nicholls had potentially exposed himself to risk of physical harm by testifying in the case.

“There must have been stress upon him and his family,” he said.

During the original trial, Steele and Whomes, along with Peter Corry, of Clacton, were also found guilty of conspiracy to import cannabis.

Corry, jailed for four-and-a-half years, is also challenging his conviction.

Prosecution lawyers have indicated they will seek a retrial if the murder convictions are quashed.

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