Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fraser appeal told of 'evidence pressure' and Crown incompetence

The Nat Fraser appeal gets underway as the Court hears of an "extraordinary degree of incompetence" and evidence pressure.

Reports from the Herald & Scotsman follow :

The Herald reports :

COURT: Nat Fraser appeal told of Crown "incompetence"

Vital evidence in the Nat Fraser murder case was not disclosed to his lawyers becuase of an "extraordinary degree of incompetence", a court heard today.

Nat Fraser, a convicted wife killer, appeared in court today to begin his appeal to clear his name.

He is trying to overturn his conviction for murdering his estranged wife Arlene nine years ago.

Fraser, 48, was jailed for life in January 2003 after a jury convicted him of the killing.

Fraser's trial heard that three of Mrs Fraser's rings went missing on the day she disappeared then mysteriously turned up in the bathroom of her home nine days later.

It was claimed her husband had placed them there, suggesting he had access to her body after she vanished.

However, two Grampian Police officers - Constables Neil Lynch and Julie Clark -whose testimony was not heard at the trial, have claimed they saw the rings in the bathroom just hours after the mother of two went missing.

Today, Fraser's lawyer, Peter Gray QC, blamed "an extraordinary degree of incompetence" for the failure to reveal information about Mrs Fraser's rings.

He said the evidence had the potential to "fundamentally undermine" the cornerstone of the case against Fraser.

The appeal is being heard by Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill, Lord Osborne and Lord Johnston.

‘I would have deserted trial over evidence’

GRAEME SMITH November 14 2007

The prosecutor at the trial of a man convicted of murdering his wife later admitted he would have "fainted" had he been told of key evidence that has now become available, appeal judges heard yesterday.

Lord Turnbull, who was then advocate depute Alan Turnbull, also said he would have deserted the trial of Nat Fraser for further investigation.

The revelation came during the first day of Fraser's appeal against the majority guilty verdict by the jury in January 2003. If unsuccessful Fraser, 48, who was released on bail in May last year, will have to spend a further 22 years in prison.

Lord Gill, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Osbourne and Lord Johnston were told that vital evidence which might have cleared Fraser was not presented at his trial because of "extraordinary incompetence" rather than a cover-up.

Arlene Fraser has not been seen since she waved goodbye to her two children in April 1998. Fraser was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years after evidence was heard that he employed a hitman to murder her and then disposed of her body. The appearance of his wife's wedding, engagement and eternity rings in the bathroom of her home nine days after she vanished was the cornerstone of the Crown case.

The Crown's submission was the rings were not in the house when a police video was shot early in the investigation and that when they reappeared on a soap dish in the bathroom they had been put there by Fraser. His intention, it was alleged, had been to create the impression Arlene had run off to start a new life.

However, Peter Gray, QC, representing Fraser, told the appeal that Police Constable Neil Lynch, who has left the force, had indicated in a statement in 2002 that he believed he had seen the rings in the bathroom, where they were eventually found by Arlene's mother, on the first night after Arlene's disappearance.

The lawyer claimed that information had not been disclosed to the defence.

He argued that his client's trial was unfair because of the Crown's failure to disclose the information which could have had a significant impact on the conduct of the trial.

He revealed that a second police officer, Constable Julie Clark, had told an inquiry into the investigation in 2006 that she, too, believed she had seen rings in the bathroom of the house during the first night after Arlene disappeared.

Mr Gray told the court that a precognition officer took the statement from PC Lynch in 2002. He recognised the potential importance of the information provided by the policeman and requested that the trial prosecutor be made aware of it, Mr Gray said.

"It would appear that that simply did not happen," he said. He said Mr Turnbull told a subsequent high-level inquiry into the case: "If, in the course of the trial, I had been shown... Lynch's precognition, then I honestly would have fainted, so inconsistent would it be with my thinking and view of the evidence.

"If the Lynch precognition had come to light during the trial it is clear the trial would have had to be deserted. There would have had to be further Crown inquiry and defence precognition."

Mr Gray said the Crown informed the defence on March 7 last year about PC Lynch's information on the rings, as well as the evidence of Constable Clark.

The Crown's position was made public four days later.

A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said at the time: "In preparing the Crown's response to this appeal, Crown counsel learned that evidence which was relevant to the case was not made available to the defence or to the court at the time of the trial. Crown counsel considered that this evidence should be made available to the defence under the duty which the Crown has to disclose evidence which undermines the prosecution case or may assist the defence."

The appeal continues.

The Scotsman reports :

Fraser appeal told of 'evidence pressure'


TWO police officers have come under pressure to change evidence, which Nat Fraser is using to try to win an appeal against his conviction for killing his wife, it was claimed yesterday.

Neil Lynch, now retired, was subjected to a "robust interrogation" by detectives to break his claim that he saw rings in the couple's home on the day that Arlene Fraser disappeared. Eventually, he agreed that he might have been mistaken. The Court of Criminal Appeal also heard that PC Julie Clark had been in tears as she revealed she had been told to say nothing.

The issue of Mrs Fraser's engagement, wedding and eternity rings was crucial at Fraser's trial in 2003, when he was found guilty of arranging his wife's murder by a hit-man in 1998.

The Crown said the rings had vanished with her and reappeared in her home in New Elgin, Moray, several days later. The allegation was that Fraser had access to Mrs Fraser's body. The officers gave statements that they saw rings in the house on the night she was reported missing.

Peter Gray, QC, for Fraser, told the court an inquiry was set up to investigate the rings issue.

Detectives from Strathclyde Police turned up unannounced at Mr Lynch's home. The interview ended with him ordering them from his house. "They returned for no purpose other than to seek to break him down," said Mr Gray.

He recounted a meeting in April last year between PC Clark and Sharon Ralph, the procurator-fiscal in Elgin. In a report, Mrs Ralph said: "I asked if she had seen the rings and she nodded. I asked, 'Were you told not to say anything?' She nodded. I asked, 'By whom?' She shook her head as if to say, 'no'. I took it she did not feel able to tell me." The hearing continues.

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