Triple killings supergrass a 'fantasist'

A SUPERGRASS whose evidence helped convict two men of a triple gangland murder was a fantasist who colluded with police to sell his story, a court heard.

A SUPERGRASS whose evidence helped convict two men of a triple gangland murder was a fantasist who colluded with police to sell his story, a court heard.

Jack Whomes, of Brockford, and Michael Steele, 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.

Their convictions, which led to them being handed three life sentences, was based around evidence given by Darren Nicholls, who told police he drove the pair away from the crime scene. He also claimed Whomes and Steele had admitted the shootings, committed in an isolated country lane.

But yesterday, at the Royal Courts of Justice, in London, Mr Nicholls was described as someone who had a vested financial interest in testifying.

Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC, representing Steele, told the court Mr Nicholls had sold his story to a publisher in August 1996, more than a year before giving evidence in court.

And she also accused Essex Police of displaying a “cavalier disregard for procedures” in investigating the crime.

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She said they instigated meetings between Mr Nicholls and journalist Tony Thompson, which ultimately led to a book deal being sealed.

Agreement was also reached for a television documentary with broadcast company LWT. This saw recording equipment passed to Mr Nicholls while he was in custody at Harlow Police Station.

Lady Kennedy said: “We know a video camera had been made available in September, 1996. That camera was given by LWT to Mr Thompson, who in turn gave it to Mr Nicholls so he could film himself in police custody for a potential documentary.

“It's also right that Mr Nicholls wore different outfits to disguise his appearance, using wigs, ski masks and false beards.

“It's our submission that Nicholls could not have filmed himself without the knowledge and complicity of Essex Police.”

Lady Kennedy said the subject of the link-up was a vital omission in the original trial, which ended in January 1998.

She said: “Had the jury known of that contact and the subsequent subterfuge, which the police facilitated, the outcome may have been very different in this case.

”It would throw a very different light on police conduct in the trial and their alleged collusion in framing these two men.”

Lady Kennedy also claimed Mr Nicholls' contact with the police as a prime witness was not accurately portrayed in the original trial.

Rather than being held in conditions “no different to any prisoner”, as she alleges the jury were led to believe, she said he was taken out on almost daily trips and allowed to drink alcohol.

She said: “Quite clearly the police who were dealing with Mr Nicholls had handled him in an unacceptable way.

“We're not saying Mr Nicholls was drinking himself into a stupor but what we are submitting is the way this man was looked after was a great variance to the way it was presented to the jury.”

Lady Kennedy said it had been clear Mr Nicholls had sought to gain financially from his position in the case.

She said: “This was to cushion his family when his criminal activity was curtailed. These benefits arose from his contact with Mr Thompson.”

The court head an initial £20,000 deal was agreed following a meeting he attended with Mr Thompson and his literary agent, Caroline Dawnay, at a London pub on August 1, 1996.

But the deal, described as a “key event” by Lady Kennedy, was not disclosed at the original trial.

The court heard Mr Nicholls, a criminal known to Essex police, was himself arrested following the Rettendon murders on drugs charges.

It was at this point his “corrupt” relationship with a detective constable emerged, the court heard.

Lady Kennedy said: “When he was arrested Mr Nicholls immediately indicated to the police that he had a special relationship with the officer and he asked that connection be made.

“He thought it would be his 'get out of jail' card. When it was clear this was not going to be the case he offered to testify against corrupt officers within Essex police.”

She added: “We have in Mr Nicholls someone who is an attention seeker and a very demanding person to deal with. So much so that the officers began to feel he was something of a fantasist.”

Whomes, 44, and Steele, 63, along with Peter Corry, of Clacton, were also convicted of conspiracy to import cannabis. Corry, jailed for four-and-a-half years, is also challenging the verdict.

The hearing, which is expected to hear from police officers involved in the case today, continues.

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