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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 25 January, 2003, 11:44 GMT
Hopes grow for 'Rettendon Two'
The scene of the crime and the victims

Two men jailed for life for the murder of three Essex drug dealers in 1995 will learn soon if their case is to be referred back to the Court of Appeal.

Jack Whomes is hopeful 2003 will be the year he walks free from jail.

Whomes, and his co-defendant Mick Steele, were convicted in 1998 of killing Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe.

The trio were found shot dead in a Range Rover parked down a country lane in Rettendon, Essex on the morning of 7 December 1995.

Reasons for doubt
New witness has come forward to undermine key witness and informer Darren Nicholls
Mobile phone evidence has been undermined by new tests conducted by expert
New information has come to light about pathologist Dr Paula Lannas
New information has come to light about Nicholls' contracts with TV companies
Puzzle of why the Range Rover was not frozen over if it had been out since 7pm the previous evening
Questions about why DNA tests were never carried out on a sweet wrapper and empty bag of crisps found in the back of the Range Rover
The main prosecution witness was Darren Nicholls, a police informer who gave evidence after being arrested red-handed with a large quantity of drugs.

He claimed he was their getaway driver.

At their trial the prosecution laid great emphasis on the murders being committed around 7pm on 6 December 1995.

Mobile phone evidence placed Whomes in the Rettendon area at 7pm.

Whomes, a mechanic, told police he was picking up Nicholls' broken down car from a pub about a mile away and one of Britain's foremost mobile phone experts has conducted tests which back up his story.

Campaigners for Whomes and Steele believe the killings happened much later and say local residents heard shots at around midnight, but not at 7pm.

Home Office pathologist Dr Paula Lannas told the court she had not been asked to ascertain the time of death.

Dr Lannas has been the subject of several complaints because of the quality of her post mortem work.

In June 1998 a man was cleared of murdering his 16-month-old son after a jury heard Dr Lannas could have caused bruises on the child's neck herself during a "cack-handed" examination.

Mistakes

In June 2000 a couple were freed after the Court of Appeal ruled their manslaughter convictions were unsafe because Dr Lannas had failed to mention a skull fracture which could have come from the fatal blow.

It was revealed at the time that Dr Lannas' work had been monitored by a Home Office committee since 1996 and two coroners in Essex had stopped using her.

Jack Whomes
Jack Whomes, with his daughter shortly before his arrest in 1996
In April 2001 she faced a disciplinary hearing before the Home Office's policy advisory board, which collapsed when the panel stepped down due to a potential conflict of interest.

A Home Office spokesman said this week: "The board is still in the process of considering how the matter should be carried forward.

"We understand the General Medical Council is still investigating the case but Dr Lannas is not suspended and remains on the Home Office list."

Dr Lannas was also the pathologist in the case of Jeffrey Cattell, who is serving life for a murder in Kent.

His case also hinged on the question of time of death, which Cattell's lawyers say occurred much earlier than Dr Lannas said.

I don't believe the coppers were bent but Darren Nicholls may well have pulled the wool over everyone's eyes.

Barry Dorman
Friend of Pat Tate
Dr Lannas' lawyer, Robert Sumerling, said she had no comment to make about the allegations against her.

But Dr Lannas then contacted BBC News Online herself and reiterated that she had not been asked to ascertain the time of death in the Rettendon case.

She said: "It was not an issue in the Rettendon case. It was not something that I looked into."

Dr Lannas said she was being made into a "scapegoat" and added: "All these matters are being processed and will be resolved in time."

The case of Whomes and Steele is being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which is expected to deliver a decision on whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal some time after Easter.

Mick Steele
Mick Steele is serving life at HMP Whitemoor
Earlier this week solicitor Jim Nichol, who has represented the victims of several miscarriage of justice cases including the M25 Three and the Bridgewater Four, agreed to represent Whomes.

Steele's common law wife, Jackie Street, told BBC News Online: "We would be very shocked if it was not referred back to the Court of Appeal in view of the quantity and quality of the information before the CCRC."

Car dealer Barry Dorman was a close friend and "father figure" to Tate and gave evidence at the trial about meeting him and Steele in Belgium a week before the murders.

At the meeting Steele handed over 70,000, which police claimed he owed to Tate, Tucker and Rolfe over a bungled drug deal.

'No ill feeling'

Mr Dorman, in an exclusive interview with BBC News Online, said: "They were chatting and laughing with each other and there was no suggestion of any ill feeling between them.

"Mick Steele gave Pat the 70,000 and Pat gave Mick 2,000 in wages, which suggests Mick was just the gopher."

Mr Dorman, an ex-policeman, said: "I don't believe the coppers were bent but Darren Nicholls may well have pulled the wool over everyone's eyes."

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Jack Whomes' mother, Pam
"I will never stop trying to prove his innocence"
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