Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Tuesday, 17 April 2007 13:31 UK

Fresh hope for 'Essex Boys' pair

By Chris Summers
BBC News

Rettendon Range Rover
Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe were killed in a Range Rover

A fresh bid is being launched in Europe to free two men convicted of a notorious triple murder in Essex.

Michael Steele and Jack Whomes have always denied murdering three drug dealers who were found shot dead in a Range Rover in December 1995.

In February last year the Court of Appeal rejected their appeal despite new evidence undermining a key witness.

On Wednesday Steele's solicitor, Chris Bowen, will hand in an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

The petition, on behalf of Steele, claims the two men were denied a fair trial because evidence which would have undermined the credibility of supergrass Darren Nicholls was kept from the jury.

Mick Steele
Steele has always maintained his innocence

In the next few months Mr Bowen also plans to apply to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) asking them to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal again.

He told BBC News that evidence had come to light in the last few weeks which "blew the case wide open".

Mr Bowen said: "I am not a betting man but I believe that when this case gets back to the Court of Appeal Essex Police will not be in a position to fight it."

I am not a betting man but I bet that when this case gets back to the Court of Appeal Essex Police will not be in a position to fight it
Chris Bowen

Whomes and Steele were jailed for life in January 1998. At their Old Bailey trial it was claimed that Steele decided to kill Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe after they fell out over a cannabis deal.

The Crown claimed Whomes hid in bushes in a lane in Rettendon, near Chelmsford, Essex and ambushed the trio after Steele lured them there in the darkness.

No forensic evidence

There was no forensic evidence against the pair and no eyewitnesses who saw them in the area on the night of 6 December 1995.

The trial became known as the Essex Boys case after it inspired a film of that name starring Sean Bean.

The main prosecution witness was Nicholls, who offered to give evidence against Steele and Whomes after being arrested on suspicion of possession of a large consignment of cannabis six months after the murders.

Faced with a long prison sentence he volunteered information about the Rettendon killings and claimed to have been Steele and Whomes's unwitting getaway driver.

What the trial jury was never told was that Nicholls had negotiated a lucrative book and TV deal while he was being held in "protective custody".

Jack Whomes with his daughter
Jack Whomes, pictured with his daughter before his 1996 arrest

He was allowed to meet a literary agent in a Covent Garden club to discuss the deal before the trial.

It was argued at the Court of Appeal last year that the deal was reliant on Steele and Whomes being convicted.

Mr Bowen said he visited Steele at Whitemoor prison in Cambridgeshire on Friday and found him very upbeat and optimistic.

"Last year, outside the Court of Appeal, I said Europe may prove to be the key to unlocking this case and winning my client's freedom and that is why I am going to Strasbourg this week," he said.

Mr Bowen added: "I'm doing this not just for Mr Steele but also for Jack Whomes, who is also an innocent man."

Jack Whomes' father, Jack, said: "This new evidence which has been discovered is dynamite. It gives us new hope of clearing Jack's name but we have to wait to see what the CCRC will do as it will be up to them to send it back to the Court of Appeal."



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