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Michael Steele
Michael Steeleís case has now been referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission

Pam Whomes
Pam Whomes: Certain her son is innocent

John Whomes
Johnny Whomes: Trying to unearth new evidence

Jack Whomes
Jack Whomes is serving a life sentence for murder
The Essex murders
Shortly before Christmas, Jack Whomes broke some bad news to his family which he had received in a letter a few days before. Whomes, serving life for the murder of three Essex drug dealers in December 1995, had been informed that the Home Secretary Jack Straw had increased his tariff from 18 to 25 years.

It was a bitter pill to swallow but his family - parents Pam and Jack Sr, four brothers and one sister - are undaunted. Pam Whomes is convinced her son - and his co-defendant Michael Steele - is a victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice. She says she will not rest until he has not only been freed from prison but has his name cleared.

"A couple of months ago he was presented with a document for him to sign to say he'd done these crimes, which he wouldn't do and through that, through not saying he done the crime they've now made him up to 25 years," said Mrs Whomes.

Whomes is currently incarcerated in Whitemoor top security jail in Cambridgeshire, which houses some of Britain's most dangerous men, including road rage killer Kenneth Noye.

His wife, Gail, and children, Jay-Jay, 14, and Lucy, 15, make the three-hour round trip from their home in Suffolk every week. In the early days the family tried to shield the children from the truth, but they are increasingly becoming involved in the campaign to free their father.

Mrs Whomes said his wife and children had been "devastated" and added: "It's been awful for them, terrible, he's lost nearly five years of seeing his children grow up and nothing can replace that or give him that back, nor his wife or children."

Horror in Rettendon

On the morning of 7 December 1995 a farmer discovered the bodies of three men - all career criminals - in a Range Rover parked up in a remote farm track in Rettendon, near Chelmsford, Essex. Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe had been shot in the head and had clearly been taken by surprise.

The trio had been involved in the supply of cannabis and ecstasy and the death of teenager Leah Betts from drugs supplied by the men became headline news. But police claimed they were murdered because they fell out with Steele over a shipment of cannabis from Holland, which proved unsaleable.

The prosecution claimed Steele, Whomes' co-defendant, lured the trio to Workhouse Lane in Rettendon and then he and Whomes jumped out of the bushes and blasted them with a shotgun.

The prosecution case was based on a statement by Darren Nicholls, who had been facing a substantial prison sentence after being found in possession of a large amount of cannabis.

Nicholls escaped a long prison sentence, was given a new identity and rehoused in another part of the UK.

Family plan campaign

Mrs Whomes believes there is no evidence to convict her son apart from Nicholls' word. She says police relied heavily on evidence about mobile phone calls made by and to the defendants, which has since been undermined by an independent forensic scientist who has examined Whomes' phone.

Mrs Whomes told BBC News Online: "If I thought for one minute that my son had done a terrible thing like that, then I would say 'You've done that - you've done the crime you do the time', but he's innocent, there's no evidence."

Whomes' brother Johnny works tirelessly to unearth new evidence and keep the case in the headlines; he was arrested last year after unfurling a banner across the M25 and conducted another protest at the Home Office before Christmas.

He said he wanted to know why the police had never tested a sweet wrapper and an empty packet of crisps - found on the floor of the Range Rover where it was claimed Steele had been sitting - for DNA.

The Whomes family, and Steele's partner, Jackie, are both convinced their loved ones will one day walk free. Steele's case has now been referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), and an application from Whomes will be made in due course, when all the new evidence has been compiled. But his solicitor, Trevor Linn, told BBC News Online it could be three or four years before the case reached the Court of Appeal.

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