#11 Twenty-year Orbit, part 2B
Concluding my look at the London Orbital film, and my examination of the L.O. project as a whole.
You’d think a country man would understand
The devil makes work for idle hands
The Fall, ‘M5 6-7PM’1
Of the various things M25 ‘navigator’ John Sergeant darkly whispered about (see part 2A of this essay), the underworld slayings, at least, were real. Following the book’s example, a section of the London Orbital film is given over to discussion of the December 1995 Rettendon murders, aka the Range Rover murders.2 Three drug dealers, Tony Tucker (38), Patrick Tate (37) and Craig Rolfe (26) were the victims, shot dead in a Range Rover on a small farm track in Rettendon, Essex.
Petit, described by Sinclair as a conspiracy buff, seems willing to entertain the notion there was more to such gangland violence than met the eye:
Ecstacy formed part of the invisible triangle of Thatcherism, along with covert government arms deals and Essex gangsters. Sergeant offered Bernard O'Mahoney, author of Essex Boys, as a perfect illustration of the thesis. O'Mahoney had helped build the motorway and in the ecstacy club scene he was a key figure: the man on the door. And several years later, he was at the wrong end of an emerging surveillance technology, the man in the picture [we see his grainy, black and white image on screen], later acquitted.
In London Orbital, the book, Sinclair provides some context omitted from the film:
After the ecstasy-induced death of Leah Betts, known to O’Mahoney from her visits to Raquels, the Basildon scene imploded: prison-toned crazies, with their cartons of loose cash, their runs to Holland, their big nights at the Epping Country Club, started to rip each other apart. Paranoia was the starting point. Drug psychosis. Bent associates. Bent cops. Bent landscape. Who did what to whom seemed less important than where they did it. Which motor they were driving. ‘Paranoid?’ said O’Mahoney. ‘I felt fucking quadraphonic.’3
O’Mahoney is on hand to give his take on things thanks to a meeting set up by Sergeant. The gangster continues with an explanation of why the M25 is important for the Essex men:
The M25's useful for all sorts of people. Y'know Essex: surrounded by ports, motorways, M25, A13. Jump on the M25 and you're up the M1 and you're in Liverpool, d'you know what I mean? M1, M60.. Essex is well connected y'know, for getting stuff shifted round. I haven't even got a licence to drive an articulated lorry but we used to run stolen lorryloads of gear round the country, up to Liverpool. Coffee beans for a relative of now-deceased train robber Buster Edwards. Down to Bristol, doing debts. Bash people up in Birmingham. We were always on the move. The more people you reach, the more money you make, d'you know what I mean?
According to O’Mahoney the three dead drug dealers of Rettendon, Tucker, Tate and Rolfe, had been out of control. They’d been ripping off associates. They’d been hitting the drugs themselves. As O’Mahoney sees it, someone in the business said enough was enough and decided to cut their careers short. The three men were supposed to meet an associate in that quiet Rettendon spot, but it was of course a set-up:
I've seen the photographs. Their heads were obliterated. Three times in the head with a shotgun, there's absolutely nothing left, d'you know what I mean? Absolutely horrific. Everyone was telling them, You're gonna get it, you're gonna get it. But because they're so full of drugs and self-belief they never thought anyone would do it, d'you know what I mean? And uh, they were wrong.. [laughs].
Petit and Sinclair meet another man, John Whomes, brother of Jack, one of the two men gaoled, in 1998, for the Range Rover murders (the other being Michael Steele). Both John Whomes and O’Mahoney are adament the two men sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders are innocent. Whomes:
Those three men was shot by a marksman, an absolute precise marksman. I've seen every bit of evidence in the case, I've seen all the photographs and they're horrific, absolutely horrific. You have nightmares about the photographs. But you have to look because it's your own brother there, and I look at the photographs and I think, I know my brother, and there's no way my brother could've carried out that. He wouldn't even kill a sparrow.
So convinced of his brother’s innocence was Whomes that he’d staged a protest on the M25, on a gantry at Junction 30. He’d worn a hi-vis jacket painted with the words FREE JACK WHOMES. INNOCENT OF RETTENDON MURDERS. He’d also unfurled a banner: FREE THEM NOW. He’d chained himself, along with a supportive family friend, to the gantry with chains they’d bought in B & Q. The protest had had an effect: that section of the motorway had been closed for some hours and Whomes had given a number of interviews, on his mobile phone, to hurriedly dispatched journalists.
But the protest’s impact didn’t extend further than that. In the event, Jack Whomes served 22 years of his 25-year ‘life’ sentence—he was released early in March 2021, for good behaviour. He was then 59 years old, and according to The Daily Mail, intended to get a job as a mechanic. Michael Steele, aged 79 at the time of writing, remains in prison.
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