(792) NAT FRASER APPEAL FAILS

Scots Law News has not previously given coverage to the Arlene Fraser murder case, in which her husband Nat was convicted of the crime in 2003 although his wife’s body had never been found since she went missing from home in 1998. On 6 May 2008 the Court of Criminal Appeal rejected Nat Fraser’s appeal against his conviction.

From a legal system point of view the case is remarkable because TV cameras were present in court to hear the judges (Lord Justice Clerk Gill and Lords Osborne and Johnston) read out summaries of their judgements (the result can be viewed here. The appeal was also of interest on substantive grounds. Evidence was given at the trial that Arlene’s rings were not found in her house immediately after she disappeared, but a week later were discovered in the bathroom, just after Nat had paid a visit to the house. The prosecution based its approach on the view that Arlene had been wearing the rings when abducted and killed and that Nat removed them from her body before disposing of it, and then brought the rings back to the house. The advocate depute described the rings as the “cornerstone” of the prosecution case, while the trial judge directed the jury that they could not convict unless they accepted that Nat had replaced the rings in Arlene’s house. After conviction, it emerged that police officers had seen jewellery in the bathroom before the official search for it began, but that this had not been known to the advocate depute, and had not been disclosed to the defence. It was argued that since this evidence had not been before the jury, and because the prosecution and the judge had laid such emphasis on the absence of evidence of this kind in the case against Nat Fraser, there had been a miscarriage of justice. The Court held, however, that the argument was misconceived. The trial judge had been guilty of a misdirection in making the ring evidence so critical for a conviction. There had, said the Court, been ample circumstantial evidence to justify a finding of guilt against Nat Fraser, while the misdirection had favoured rather than disadvantaged the defence. For the same reasons, the argument about non-disclosure failed.

The Crown Office marked the result in its now customary populist fashion by issuing a press release and quoting Solicitor General Frank Mulholland QC as saying:

"I am pleased that the Appeal Court has today upheld Nat Fraser's conviction for the murder of his wife Arlene. This was an appalling crime and the decision of the Appeal Court will be a small comfort to Arlene's family that justice has been done. Our thoughts remain with Arlene's family at this time."

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