The Northern Scot's Arlene Fraser and Nat Fraser files: 2007 – Court hears of Nat evidence blunders
This story appeared in the Northern Scot, November 16, 2007.
CRUCIAL evidence which could have cleared Nat Fraser was withheld from his defence because of an “extraordinary degree of incompetence” at the Crown Office, the appeal court heard on Tuesday.
That was the claim of Fraser’s defence QC, Peter Gray, on the opening day of his appeal at The Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh.
Fraser, of Elgin, was convicted following a High Court trial in 2003 of arranging the 1998 murder of his wife Arlene and of disposing of her body.
The former fruit and veg salesman was ordered to serve a minimum of 25 years behind bars, however, he was released in May 2006 pending his appeal.
Central to his appeal are Arlene’s wedding, engagement and eternity rings, which appeared in the bathroom at her home days after she vanished, and which acted as the cornerstone in the Crown’s case against Fraser.
Mr Gray said there was evidence a police officer had seen the rings in the house on the night she disappeared or the day afterwards but the information had been kept from the defence.
“In those circumstances we have information which the Crown had in its possession which had the capability for the potential of undermining that cornerstone, and that was something which the Crown was clearly duty bound to make known to the defence,” said Mr Gray.
He said another officer, constable Julie Clark, had also given a statement last year backing up the claim and said she remembered seeing rings, a necklaceand bracelet in the bathroom on the first or second day of Arlene’s disappearance.
Mr Gray said police constable Neil Lynch had revealed having seen the rings in a statement to precognition officer Douglas Burns in July 2002, who had been asked to interview him by the then procurator fiscal for Elgin, David Dickson. Mr Burns had passed the statement to Mr Dickson with a note saying Constable Lynch would come into the office to identify the rings.
But Mr Dickson claimed never to have seen the statement, and had not followed up his request for the statement.
Mr Burns also wrote to Crown Office worker Denise Bruce who was drawing up the charges, and to an assistant to the advocate depute who would be prosecuting the case.
But Mrs Bruce did not remember seeing the letter and the advocate depute said he had not read the information because it had been among a messy file, said Mr Gray.
“Although Mr Burns immediately recognised the potential importance of the information provided by Constable Lynch and alerted the indictor and the depute Crown agent and specifically required that both the trial depute and indictor be made aware of this information, it would appear it did not happen,” said Mr Gray.
Mr Gray said of Mr Dickson, “He appears to have written a letter on September 10, 2002, to the Crown Office stating that he has seen the letter and considered its terms. ”
Lord Johnstone asked: “Are you suggesting this was incompetence or a cover up?”
Mr Gray replied: “Not a cover up. I don’t suggest this was a cover up but there was an extraordinary degree of incompetence.”
Fraser was convicted of his wife’s murder in February 2003 following a threeweek trial and was ordered to spend at least 25 years behind bars.
Scotland’s Solicitor General, John Beckett QC, for the Crown, previously said a re-trial could not be ruled out.
Mother-of-two Arlene (33) vanished from her home in Smith Street, New Elgin on April 28, 1998.
Her body has never been found.
She was reported missing after she failed to keep an appointment with a solicitor to discuss ending her 11-year marriage to Fraser with a possible £250,000 pay-off.
A month before her disappearance, fruit and vegetable wholesaler Fraser had half-strangled Arlene for coming home late.
It was five years before Fraser went on trial with two other men, Hector Dick and Glenn Lucas, who has since died.
But the charges against Dick and Lucas were dropped and Dick, of Wester Hillside Farm, Mosstowie, Elgin, gave evidence against Fraser.
He said Fraser had confided in him about hiring a hit-man to strangle Arlene, and claimed he had admitted burning the body and crushing and scattering the remains.
A crucial part of the prosecution’s case was that Arlene’s engagement, wedding and eternity rings had vanished with her, but they turned up eight or nine days later.
The trial judge told jurors they could only convict if they were prepared to accept Fraser had put the rings there.
The £2 million investigation by Grampian Police was thought to be the biggest missing person inquiry every launched in Scotland.
The hearing is expected to last three week and the judges – The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, Lord Osborne and Lord Johnstone – will deliver their written verdict some time later.