'The Murder Trial': Television cameras allowed into British courtroom for the first time for retrial of wife-killer Nat Fraser

The notorious case of wife killer Nat Fraser is the subject of a ground-breaking Channel 4 documentary

The dramatic moment in which a man is convicted of arranging the murder of his wife and then disposing of her body will be broadcast on television next week.

It is the first time that cameras have been allowed into a British courtroom to film an entire case in a ground-breaking project which has taken nearly four years to bring to the screen.

A documentary crew working for Channel 4 followed the six-week retrial of Nat Fraser at the High Court in Edinburgh in 2012. Using six remotely controlled miniature cameras positioned around the courtroom, film-makers were able to achieve extraordinary close-ups of the defendant, judge, advocates and witnesses as the evidence in one of Scotland’s most notorious and baffling cases was played out.

The two-hour documentary, The Murder Trial, will be shown as some courts in England prepare to open their doors to fixed cameras in October. Screen tests have been going on at the Court of Appeal in London this summer, although the Lord Chief Justice has warned against Government plans to extend filming rights to crown courts, where cases are heard before a jury, because of concerns that it could prevent witnesses coming forward. Filming is already allowed in the Supreme Court.

Director Nick Holt, who won a Bafta for his 2010 documentary Between Life and Death, which followed patients in a brain injury unit, said it was time to reconsider the role of the television camera in the legal process.

“We talk a great deal about open justice but we have to have a debate about how open justice can be. There is a public gallery for a reason. You are tried by your peers, there in the jury box, and watched by the public gallery,” he said.

“We have a right to see this process which costs us an enormous amount of money and which we are very good at and very thorough at. There is nothing to hide, nothing shameful going on. The process of filming demystifies the legal process.”

Negotiations with the Scottish Court Service and the Lord President’s Office began in 2009. Before filming, all judges in Scotland were consulted, but shooting was postponed at the last minute because of legal concerns.

The Lord President, Lord Gill, has now ordered a halt on all filming applications in the wake of the Channel 4 film to review the policy of allowing cameras in.

During the trial, the jury, who are not shown, heard that Fraser – who continues to protest his innocence – boasted to a former friend that he had hired a hitman to kill his wife, burned her body and ground up her teeth so that she would never be found. But The Murder Trial, which combines interviews with witnesses, court staff, historic footage and behind-the-scenes shooting is a far cry from the plans for filming appeal courts in England.

From October, fixed cameras will be trained on senior judges as they reveal their rulings on points  of law.

In The Murder Trial the jury considers the disappearance of Arlene Fraser, 33, a mother of two, who vanished from her home in Elgin in 1998. Her body was never found. Nat Fraser, 54, was convicted in 2003 but the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Last year Scottish courts allowed the filming of sentencing remarks from Lord Bracadale – who presided over the Fraser retrial. It was only the second time this had happened. In 1996 a BBC Scotland crew filmed the sentencing of armed robbers.

Chairman of the Bar Council Maura McGowan QC said there were still concerns over giving greater access to film-makers. One fear is that it might lead to disturbances or grandstanding.

She said: “It is good for justice in the sense that the more the public understand what goes on, the better. But you would have to exercise real judgement in which is the right case to choose.”

Mr Holt said that the presence of cameras had not led to any noticeable change in behaviour at the trial: “The act of filming goes unnoticed. It is like going into Sainsbury’s where you are being filmed by CCTV. It doesn’t affect how you behave when you are in Sainsbury’s.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all