Rettendon murders 'new' mobile evidence

A MOBILE phone expert has told of the "significant" evidence that he believes removes one of the convicted killers from the scene of one of East Anglia's most notorious murders.

A MOBILE phone expert has told of the "significant" evidence that he believes removes one of the convicted killers from the scene of one of East Anglia's most notorious murders.

David Bristowe, one of the UK's leading mobile phone specialists, spoke of his research as Suffolk man Jack Whomes waits to hear if he is allowed to appeal against his convictions for killing three Essex drug barons.

Whomes, 42, of Brockford, near Stowmarket, and Michael Steele, 60, are serving life sentences for the brutal murders of Craig Rolfe, Tony Tucker and Patrick Tate.

The trio were found blasted to their deaths in a Range Rover on a secluded lane in Rettendon, near Chelmsford, in December 1995.

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Both Whomes and Steele, of Ainger's Green, near Great Bentley, were convicted of the killings after a trial at the Old Bailey in 1998.

Whomes, a mechanic, was placed at the scene of the crime, Workhouse Lane, by mobile phone records supported by evidence of "supergrass" Darren Nicholls, who claims he acted as the getaway driver.

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But Mr Bristowe said his independent tests, which he did for his own satisfaction and has not been paid for, put a question mark against the reliability of the mobile phone evidence and suggested Whomes was elsewhere around the time of the killings.

"This is just one of several inconsistencies in the case and I would like to see it re-opened," he said.

"I felt that the evidence, particularly mobile phone cell site evidence, wasn't examined properly. I got the impression it wasn't given the consideration it should have been. It is much more recognised now than it was then."

Key evidence in the trial centred on two calls allegedly made by Whomes, which were picked up on two different cell phone masts, just after the shootings.

One of the calls, it is claimed, was from Whomes to Nicholls telling him to collect him and Steele from the lane.

Prosecutor Andrew Munday, QC, told the jury Whomes must have been in an area overlapped by the two transmitters and Workhouse Lane was in that area.

But Mr Bristowe said his research showed that only one of the transmitters – at Ingatestone – was within range at the scene.

He managed to retrieve Whomes's phone from Essex Police to carry out the stringent tests and even waited for similar weather conditions to the day of the killings.

"I made about 60 calls at various places and heights up and down the lane, and not one of those calls was routed through the second cell site, at Hockley, which the prosecution said was within range," said Mr Bristowe.

"I just don't think Jack Whomes could have been in Workhouse Lane when he made that call.

"His explanation was that he had been to the Wheatsheaf pub in Rettendon to pick up a car for Nicholls and tried to call from there. He would have been in range of both cell sites there."

Specialist Mr Bristowe supplied mobile phone evidence that helped convict former Maldon man Stuart Campbell of the murdering his niece, Danielle Jones, and has recently been a prosecution witness at the Soham murder trial.

He was originally part of Whomes's defence team at the 1998 Old Bailey trial and, unconvinced by the verdict, personally took up the case.

"For my own satisfaction I did a whole series of tests using Jack Whomes's phone, not just any phone.

"I didn't feel it was appropriate to charge for it. I felt the facts at the trial fitted the defence case rather than the prosecution's story.

"If you look at the prosecution and the defence cases, the defence was much more plausible."

Whomes and Steele have both protested their innocence of the crimes, claiming Nicholls fabricated his story.

Their cases are being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is expected to make a decision shortly on whether to allow them to go to the Court of Appeal. Previous bids to appeal against the convictions have been denied.

Essex Police refused to comment on the new evidence.

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