Witness paid by media, appeal court told

A "SUPERGRASS" witness in a murder trial was helped by police to sell his story to the media before the case even got to court, it was claimed in the Court of Appeal today.

A "SUPERGRASS" witness in a murder trial was helped by police to sell his story to the media before the case even got to court, it was claimed in the Court of Appeal today.

Defence counsel Baroness Kennedy QC said: “We say that the police, unable to supply finance to the witness themselves, facilitated his link with the media - in contemporary parlance, it was outsourcing or a private finance initiative.”

If the Old Bailey jury which convicted Michael Steele and Suffolk man Jack Whomes of a triple gangland murder had known of the police "subterfuge', their verdict might have been very different, she said.

Disclosures about police involvement in the witness's negotiations for a book deal, a TV documentary and even a film "throw a very different light on police conduct in the trial and their alleged collusion in framing these two men'.

Steele, 61, of Great Bentley, Essex, and Whomes, 44, of Brockford, are serving life for the 1995 murders of gangsters Patrick Tate, Anthony Tucker and Craig Rolfe.

Prosecution lawyers have indicated they will seek a retrial if the murder convictions are quashed.

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Steele and Whomes, along with Peter Corry, of Clacton, Essex, were also found guilty of conspiracy to import cannabis.

Corry, jailed for four-and-a-half years, is also challenging his conviction.

The story of the murders became known as the "Essex Boys' case after it inspired a film starring Sean Bean.

Initial appeals by the three were dismissed, but the cases were referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice.

Defence lawyers contend that fresh evidence shows that a crucial witness at the men's 1998 trial, Darren Nicholls, had entered into media arrangements whereby he was to be paid for his story.

The Crown "strenuously' denies allegations of a police cover-up regarding the reliability of Nicholls.

Up-dated evidence is also expected to be presented from a mobile phone expert to reinforce his trial evidence that it was more likely that certain calls from Whomes's mobile were made from a public house car park, as he had claimed, rather than from a location near the murder scene.

The prosecution case was that the three victims were shot dead in a Range Rover on an isolated farm track at Rettendon, Essex, in December 1995 in a gangland dispute over drugs.

The case continues.

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