A GANGLAND killer who was jailed for life over the Essex Boys murders has had his sentence reduced by a High Court judge because of his "exceptional" behaviour in prison.

Jack Whomes, now 57, was jailed at the Old Bailey in 1998 for the December 1995 murders of Patrick Tate, Anthony Tucker and Craig Rolfe, who were shot dead in a Range Rover on an isolated farm track at Rettendon in a dispute over drugs.

In November 2000, the then home secretary notified Whomes and his co-accused, Michael Steele, that he had set their tariff - the minimum term which must be spent behind bars before becoming eligible to apply for parole - at 25 years.

But after considering an application by Whomes, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb today decided to cut Whomes' tariff by one year.

She said: "In all the circumstances, for this dreadful crime following which the applicant has demonstrated exceptional progress in custody, I impose a tariff of 24 years, less 617 days spent on remand."

The judge pointed out that by imposing a tariff lower than the 25 years set by the home secretary, Whomes "will not necessarily be released any sooner than he would otherwise have been".

She added: "Release is a matter for the Parole Board but a reduction in the tariff would mean that the Parole Board can consider whether Whomes is safe for release earlier than it would otherwise be able to do."

The killer is housed in a category C prison and the Judge referred to "powerful evidence" that he "has effected a transformation in his own life".

She added: "The real merit in his application is as a long-term prisoner who has demonstrated exceptional progress and reduced the degree of risk he poses.

"It is right for that progress to be recognised."

Whomes, of Brockford, Suffolk, was convicted alongside Steele, now 75, of Great Bentley, whose tariff is set at 23 years.