'Essex boys' jury kept in the dark

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, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday, as reported in later editions of The Evening Star, 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.

Most Read

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 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.

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

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.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter