Murder appeal verdict to be announced

THE judgement in the case of two men appealing against convictions for the notorious Rettendon murders is expected to be made today.During final submissions yesterday, the Court of Appeal heard how the convictions of Michael Steele and John Whomes were unsafe and should be quashed because of “fundamentally corrupt” omissions in evidence in the original trial.

By Danielle Nuttall

THE judgement in the case of two men appealing against convictions for the notorious Rettendon murders is expected to be made today.

During final submissions yesterday, the Court of Appeal heard how the convictions of Michael Steele and John Whomes were unsafe and should be quashed because of “fundamentally corrupt” omissions in evidence in the original trial.

Henry Blaxland, for Whomes, described supergrass Darren Nicholls as a “scheming” and “manipulative” man who was standing to gain financially from testifying against the pair and claimed the case “would not get off the ground” without his evidence.

“He was the glue holding it all together,” he added.

The court was previously told how Nicholls, who told police he drove Steele and Whomes away from the crime scene, sold his story to a publisher more than a year before giving evidence against the men in court.

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It has also been claimed Essex Police instigated meetings between Mr Nicholls and journalist Tony Thompson, which ultimately led to a book deal being sealed.

The concern is, according to Steele's barrister Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Nicholls' story was constructed or elaborated upon in order to make it newsworthy because of the financial benefit he stood to gain.

She also alleges his idea of writing a book was around the same time as he decided to give an account to police about the murders.

Both Lady Kennedy and Mr Blaxland argue if the information was known to the jury at the time of the original trial, it might have led them to a different conclusion.

“The evidence before this court is such that it demonstrates on the balance of probabilities the disclosure process at trial was fundamentally corrupt,” said Mr Blaxland.

“If that be right that would lead to inevitable conclusions that all these convictions on appeal should be quashed.”

Whomes, 44, of Brockford, near Eye, and Steele, 63, of Great Bentley, are appealing after being found guilty of gunning down Tony Tucker, Patrick Tate and Craig Rolfe in Rettendon, near Chelmsford, in December 1995 allegedly after a gangland dispute over drugs.

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

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.

During the four day hearing, it has been alleged Mr Nicholls was also part of an agreement for a television documentary with broadcast company LWT. This allegedly saw recording equipment passed to Mr Nicholls while he was in custody at Harlow Police Station.

Lady Kennedy said yesterday: “Here we have evidence of something very strange taking place which has to fly in the face of the proper conduct of officers charged with his welfare.

“Had the defence at the trial known about the book and other media deals, it would have been potentially powerful ammunition against a trial.”

The outcome of the appeal is expected to be announced today.

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