Rettendon murders case goes to appeal

By Rebecca SheppardTHE brother of one of the men convicted of the infamous Rettendon murders hopes he will be released from prison within weeks.John Whomes was speaking after it was announced that the case of his brother Jack, and that of Michael Steele, would be referred to the Court of Appeal.

By Rebecca Sheppard

THE brother of one of the men convicted of the infamous Rettendon murders hopes he will be released from prison within weeks.

John Whomes was speaking after it was announced that the case of his brother Jack, and that of Michael Steele, would be referred to the Court of Appeal.

Jack Whomes and Steele were convicted at the Old Bailey in 1998 of the murders of gangsters Patrick Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe in a country lane in Rettendon, near Chelmsford, in December 1995.

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But the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) announced yesterday that it would refer their cases to the Court of Appeal.

The family of Jack Whomes, 43, from Brockford, said they expected him to be out of prison by February next year.

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His brother John, 42, who lives near Stowmarket, said: “I am over the moon about it. We knew it would only be a matter of time before it came to a head. Now he will be coming home within a couple of months.

“The CCRC said it will take about two months for it to come to court. It will be his last Christmas in there definitely and by early February we should have him home.

“They have got to carry on and investigate this for the families of the three deceased men to find out what's been going on.”

Mr Whomes said the case for the appeal would hinge on the evidence of “supergrass” Darren Nicholls, which lawyers have claimed was unreliable.

He added telephone evidence and the lack of a time of death verified by a pathologist could also be used.

Yesterday's announcement follows a sustained campaign by the Whomes family, who have maintained the convicted men were innocent.

“We have been waiting for this for nine years. It couldn't have come at a better time. People never understand what we have gone through and what we have still got to go through to get Jack back in society,” said Mr Whomes.

Jack Whomes' mother, Pam, 67, said she hoped her son would be home in time for his birthday on February 13 or hers on February 26.

“Words can't describe it. It's lovely to have tears of joy rather than the heartache it has been for nine years,” she added.

“It is absolutely brilliant. I just can't tell you how I feel. Jack is ecstatic. He was, like me, emotional. It's been a long time coming, but now it's here and we know we're nearly there I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“It shouldn't be long before he's at the Court of Appeal and home and he might be home quicker than we think. I couldn't wish for anything better.”

Mrs Whomes said she would not have wished the past nine years on her worst enemy and added: “When you know you're son is innocent, and I know everyone says a mother would say that, but after all these years fighting and fighting and getting information it is coming to an end.

“Hopefully it will all come out if there is a court case, as we have got plenty to say and we can back it up.

“He's been to hell and back, my boy. He's done nine years in prison, he's lost his house, but he's still got his wife and children.

“It has been a mental strain, though. His children were 10 and 11 when he went in and now they are adults. He's got two grandchildren too.”

Steele and Whomes were convicted of the Rettendon murders, which happened on December 6, 1995, after Nicholls - a self-confessed drug dealer who claimed to be their getaway driver - gave evidence at their trial.

Nicholls maintained that Steele was behind a series of drug smuggling runs in 1995, one of which had sparked a bitter feud that culminated in a row over a smuggled shipment of poor-quality cannabis.

Three other dealers - Tate, Tucker and Rolfe - were then said to have been ambushed in their Range Rover on an isolated farm track in Rettendon, with Steele and Whomes firing eight shots at close range into their heads.

Steele, 62, a self-employed engineer, from Ainger's Green, Great Bentley, and Whomes, a self-employed mechanic, had denied committing the murders.

As well as three life sentences, Steele and Whomes were convicted of conspiring to import cannabis, for which Steele was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment and Whomes was jailed for six-and-a-half years.

A third man, Peter Corry, 44, of London Road, Clacton, was also sent to prison for four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to import cannabis. His conviction is also being referred to the Court of Appeal.

After their convictions, Steele, Whomes and Corry were denied leave to appeal by the Court of Appeal in January 1999.

They then applied to the CCRC, which reviews alleged miscarriages of justice, and carried out a “long and complex” investigation.

A spokesman said: “We have now considered a range of issues, including new evidence which could affect the credibility of a key prosecution witness, and decided to refer the conviction to the Court of Appeal.”

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said: “At this stage Essex Police are not in full possession of the full grounds of the appeal. It is expected that the process may take some considerable time and for the men's appeal to be heard.

“It would be inappropriate for Essex Police to make further comment until the judicial process is completed.”

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