By Chris Summers 7 February 2021
The Parole Board has ruled Jack Whomes – who was convicted of the Rettendon Range Rover murders in Essex – is suitable for release from prison after serving 25 years.
Whomes, now 59, is expected to be freed in the next month but it will be a bittersweet moment for his family who will be delighted to have Jack – known as Bubsy – home but will also reflect on the 25 years of his life which have been wasted.
His co-defendant Mick Steele, who is now 76, will remain in prison.
I visited Jack Whomes in Whitemoor prison in 2003 and met Steele in Full Sutton jail the same year. Both men have steadfastly protested their innocence and claimed they were victims of the worst miscarriage of justice since the infamous cases of the 1980s.
The murder of three drug dealers – Pat Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe (pictured left to right) – in a Range Rover parked down a country lane near the village of Rettendon in Essex became one of the most notorious crimes of the 1990s.
The trio, who were shot dead in the middle of the night in December 1995, had been connected to the supply of the ecstasy at a Basildon nightclub which led to the death of teenager Leah Betts, a tragedy which was on the front pages of most British newspapers.
Whomes and Steele – who had been involved in smuggling cannabis across the North Sea and had been supplying Tucker and Tate with the drug – were convicted of the murders, largely on the word of supergrass Darren Nicholls.
Nicholls, a convicted fraudster, only gave a statement to police after he was caught red-handed with a large quantity of drugs. He was given a much-reduced sentence and was later given a new identity and put in a witness protection programme.
What was strange about Nicholls’ evidence was that it echoed an account which had been given by an east London criminal, Billy Jasper, who pointed the finger at gangsters from the Canning Town area of the capital.
Detectives chose not to believe Jasper but his version of events – in which he claimed he was an unwitting getaway driver – became the template for Nicholls’ story.
When Whomes and Steele’s case came before the Court of Appeal in London in 2007 it was argued Nicholls had been coached by the police.
It was also pointed out his handlers had allowed Nicholls to meet journalist and author Tony Thompson who was working on a book, Bloggs 19, which was based on Nicholls’ version of events.
In the run-up to the appeal hearing Nicholls was arrested and interviewed under caution. He stuck to his story but said “he doesn’t want to repeat that evidence”.
Nicholls said he got in contact with Thompson a couple of months after his arrest and explained his thinking: “It seemed to be that everyone something like this happened to was selling their stories and things and I thought well, I know that I’m gonna get fuck all from the police and I know that I’ve had fuck all in life and I knew that…when they’re convicted perhaps…you know I can make some money out of it.”
But three judges, led by Lord Bingham, threw out the appeal and Whomes was forced to spend another 14 years in jail for a crime many people in the English underworld do not believe he committed.
Dave McKelvey, a former police officer who has been investigating the murders, told the Sunday Express recently described Billy Jasper’s version of events as “compelling” and urged Essex Police to look again at the case.
Jasper named the assassin and his accomplice – another East End gangster, Jesse Gale – after being arrested in January 1996, a month after the murders.
Gale was later killed in a car crash in Kent and Jasper spiralled into drug addiction.
Last month a reformed gangster from east London, Steve Ellis, said he believed his father Sid was responsible for the Rettendon murders and claimed it was linked to a feud with the trio which stemmed from a comment made about Tucker’s mistress.
Ellis told The Sun: “They threatened to cut off my sister’s finger.”
Whoever killed the three dealers at Rettendon knew how to handle weapons and caught them completely by surprise – Tucker (pictured far left, with boxer Nigel Benn), Tate and Rolph were shot where they sat without having time to react or open a car door.
Pam Whomes said while her son had stupidly become involved in smuggling cannabis with Steele he was innocent of the murders and had never fired a gun in his life.
She told this reporter her husband, also called Jack, went to see Whomes (pictured with his daughter in the early 1990s) in prison before his death from cancer in 2011.
Mrs Whomes said: “My husband said ‘Can you just say you done it so you can come out and look after your mother when I’ve gone?’ and Jack said ‘No, I’m sorry. I can’t do that, not even for you’.”