Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Lawyer and politician who led the Lockerbie bombing inquiry

 

The wholly unexpected death of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie robs Scotland of one of its more outstanding public servants. He will be best remembered for his service as Lord Advocate and it was under his auspices that the criminal investigation into the Lockerbie bombing took place.

Initially he believed that the Palestinians were to blame, but the discovery of part of the timer that could be linked to Libya changed the direction of the enquiry and the chain of evidence built up by patient detective work led him to issue the indictment of two Libyans, one of whom was acquitted. The other, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, went to jail and was later released in controversial circumstances. Fraser caused some controversy by doubting the credibility of one of the witnesses, describing the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, as "not quite the full shilling". However, he never doubted the safety of al-Megrahi's conviction.

Fraser also presided over an enquiry into the over-run of costs on the Scottish parliament building, concluding memorably that, apart from the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which accepted some responsibility, "the ancient walls of the Canongate echoed only to the cry of 'it wasnae me!'"

He had earlier represented his beloved Angus in the House of Commons, regaining Angus South for the Unionist Party in 1979 and sitting for Angus East from 1983 to 1987. As a socially concerned young lawyer he advised Gingerbread and Shelter in Scotland and as Chairman of the Thistle Group (the Scottish equivalent of the Bow Group) he had favoured devolution. In the Commons he was a member of the Blue Chips dining club, most of whom stood to the left of the Party. He could hardly be described as "one of us", but Mrs Thatcher, whose appointments were always more eclectic than popularly supposed, appointed him Solicitor General for Scotland in 1982.

He lost his seat in 1987 but continued in post until elevated to the House of Lords and appointed Lord Advocate in 1989. Subsequently he served as John Major's Minister of State at the Scottish Office from 1992 to 1995 and was moved to take responsibility for export promotion and overseas investment as Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry until 1997. He had responsibility for the oil and gas industries and was named Minister for Energy in 1996.

A liberal-minded lawyer who was nevertheless notably tough where crime enforcement was concerned, Fraser was opposed to the death penalty. He had campaigned for British membership of the EEC and was strongly pro-European. His fellow Blue Chip, Matthew Parris, described him as "quiet, clever and nice", a background figure accurately placed in Rose Cecil's notable group portrait, but in truth he had a formidable intellect, an engaging personality and an appetite for the good things of life. His passion for politics was exceeded only by his passion for history and the law. Friends cherished his wit and liked the way he made fun of his own foibles.

Peter Lovat Fraser was born at Luanshya in Zambia shortly after the end of the Second World War, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, George Robson Fraser, and Helen Jean Meiklejohn. He was sent to preparatory school in Grahamstown, South Africa, but when he was 12 he lost his mother. At the request of Brendan Bracken, a friend of the family, Anthony Eden secured him a scholarship to Loreto and from there he went on to read law at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1963-67).

Somewhat surprisingly he took a third in finals but went on to gain his Ll.B. After two years at the University of Edinburgh he was elected to the Faculty of Advocates in 1969. In the same year he married Fiona Macdonald Mair. They had three children, Jane, James and Catriona.

Between 1972 and 1974 he lectured in Constitutional Law at Heriot Watt University. He was unsuccessful in his first effort to get into Parliament, finishing third behind Labour and the SNP at Aberdeen North in October 1974. He was an active member of the Scottish Conservative lawyers Reform Group, chairing it in 1976. In 1979 he became standing Junior Counsel in Scotland to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, he was elected to parliament in the summer of 1979, became secretary of the Conservative backbench Scottish Committee (1980-82), and after a year as George Younger's PPS he was appointed Solicitor General for Scotland. He took silk in 1982 and was made a member of the Privy Council in 1989. He became an honorary bencher of Lincoln's Inn in the same year.

Fraser completed his time on the front benches as the shadow deputy leader in the House of Lords and when his friend and leader, Robert Salisbury, was sacked by William Hague in 1998 for engineering a compromise over Lords reform, Fraser stood down as well. That freed him for other public service, which included membership of Scotland's broadcasting Commission and a role as independent adviser on the Scottish Government's committee on the ministerial code.

For seven years from 2000 he was Chairman of the Statutory Committee of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. He also took a keen interest in the hospice movement, presiding over the association of the Leagues of Friends from 1983. He was active in business, chairing JKX Oil and Gas, Ram Energy and ICE Futures Europe and taking directorships in a number of energy-related firms. A keen golfer, he was a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and a director of the Carnoustie Golf Course Hotel.

Fraser had made a complete recovery from an earlier heart attack and his death came as a shock to family and friends. It leaves a gap in their lives as well as that of Scottish public life which will be hard to fill.

John Barnes

Peter Lovat Fraser, lawyer and politician: born Luanshya, Zambia 29 May 1945; MP for South Angus 1979–83, Angus East 1983–87; PPS to Secretary of State for Scotland 1981–82; Solicitor General for Scotland 1982–89; Lord Advocate 1989–92; Minister of State, Scottish Office 1992–95, DTI 1995–97 (Minister for Energy 1996–97), Deputy Leader of the Opposition, House of Lords 1997–98; cr. 1989 Life Peer; married 1969 Fiona Macdonald Mair (one son, two daughters); died 22 June 2013.

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