South Yorkshire detective who snared dozens of killers set to retire after 32 years fighting crime

Over the last 12 months alone, crooks snared by DCI Steve Whittaker were locked up in Sheffield for over 160 years.

By Claire Lewis
Wednesday, 13th February 2019, 9:27 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th February 2019, 9:32 am
DCI Steve Whittaker who is retiring from South Yorkshire Police after 32 years. Picture Scott Merrylees
DCI Steve Whittaker who is retiring from South Yorkshire Police after 32 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

A real life Gene Hunt – the fictional detective in the BBC’s Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes cop series – DCI Whittaker has a reputation for cracking the most serious of cases and it is thought that there are dozens of murderers behind bars today thanks to investigations he has led over the years.

DCI Steve Whittaker who is retiring from South Yorkshire Police after 32 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

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Last week saw evil stepdad Martin Johnson jailed for life for killing 23-month old toddler Erin Tomkins, who was rushed to hospital with severe head injuries but was also found to have been abused in the weeks and months before her death.

APPEAL: Family of Sheffield murder victim urges man wanted by police to come forward Her battered body was found with old spinal and arm fractures and 27 bruises inflicted by 20-year-old Johnson, who was jealous of the tot.

DCI Whittaker prolonged his career with South Yorkshire Police to see the case through after receiving the initial call about the murder on the day Erin died, enduring the ordeal of observing a post mortem examination of the tragic tot’s body and overseeing interviews in which the killer tried to lie to cover his tracks – even blaming the young girl’s mum.

DCI Steve Whittaker in his younger days as a police officer

“There is no greater honour than being trusted to oversee cases which result in justice being served for victims and their grieving families,” he said.

“I won’t miss certain parts of the job – those phone calls in the middle of the night and observing post mortem examinations – but I will miss my role in helping to deliver justice for victims and their families.” 

The dad-of-one, whose 14-year-old son is considering following in his footsteps, was involved in a Sheffield murder case which made legal history in one of the first murder cases he worked on.

As a detective constable at the time, he was the ‘officer in the case’ who helped run an investigation into the fatal shooting of an innocent father-of-seven gunned down outside a Sheffield nightclub.

Gerald Smith, aged 42, was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was shot outside Donkeyman’s on Spital Hill, Burngreave, by a Nottingham-based gang intent on seeking revenge 

after some of its members were robbed in a city takeaway.

Mr Smith had no connection to the robbery but was killed in cold blood by a gang intent on restoring its reputation on the streets – shooting indiscriminately without a thought for the consequences.

In a first for British legal history, nine men were jailed for a total of 195 years after they were all convicted of murder on a joint enterprise basis despite it never being proven who pulled the trigger.

The men all observed a gangland code of silence, with each refusing to point the finger, but the decision cost their their futures and they are all still behind bars today.

DCI Whittaker, who joined the police service in 1987 and spent the first four years of his career working for Leicestershire Police, said: “Never before had so many people been convicted of murder on a joint enterprise basis when it was never stated who had fired the gun.

“It made legal history and really cemented what I wanted to do in my career. It was a pivotal moment for me.”

Another one of the largest cases he worked on resulted in three men being jailed for a total of 90 years in 2018.

Matthew Cohen, Dale Gordon and Keil Bryan were each sentenced to life and a minimum of 30 years in prison over the death of 23-year-old drive-by shooting of Aseel Al-Essaie in a drive-by shooting in Upperthorpe in February 2017.

They all denied any involvement but were found guilty after a trial.

DCI Whittaker said the case was an example of ‘painstaking’ detective work at its best as the force pieced together the circumstances surrounding the murder. 

Around 130 mobile phones were seized as part of the investigation, with one device alone containing 60,000 images, which each had to be examined.

Over 700 people were spoken to as part of the police probe, hundreds of hours of CCTV footage was reviewed and over 7,000 documents were raised.

He received a Chief Constable’s commendation for his efforts to crack the case.

“It is difficult to leave a job you love, where you are trusted to secure justice for the death of an individual,” he said.

“It can give you sleepless nights but it is a unique job and an honour to do.

“Most TV dramas these days are about murders and cops and people are really interested in what that entails. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done this on a daily basis and it is true that no two days are the same, you literally never know what you are going to get when the calls come through.”

DCI Whittaker was also commended for his work on a murder after a callous woman recruited a rap band to attack her husband and then mowed him down in a car she specifically bought for the job.

Nawajid Ali Khan was killed in broad daylight on Chesterfield Road, Heeley, in 2008.

His wife Faria Khan was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years for organising the plot and ensuring he was dead after aiming a car at him after he was beaten up by the rap band ‘wannabe gangsters’.

Neelam Kauser, who organised for her boyfriend Brian Yorachi to carry out the attack with his friends – members of Sheffield rap band Dem Boyz and all caught up in a fantasy gangster world – 

was ordered to serve a minimum of 14 years in prison.

Yorachi and fellow band member Kanu Kangi were each jailed for a minimum of 17 years. Sheffield Crown Court heard that Khan recruited the band to carry out a brutal assault on her husband after concocting a ‘chilling’ plan to kill him avoid the ‘social and financial consequences’ of going through a divorce.

DCI Whittaker said: “When I moved into CID, I was told at the time that three things were guaranteed – drink, divorce and death. I’ve death to look forward to!

“But seriously, over the years I have been honoured to work with some great police officers and detectives.

“If I was starting out again I’d definitely still join the police without doubt. 

“It has changed a lot of over the years, with DNA, forensics and mobile phone cell site analysis having improved so much that they are now invaluable to detectives, but you still need that old fashioned inquisitive mind and determination to get to the bottom of what a case is all about no matter how long it takes you.”