Twice-guilty Nat Fraser loses appeal against murder conviction

 

Nat Fraser has lost an appeal against his conviction for murdering his wife, raising hopes of an end to 15 years of uncertainty for her family.

The 54-year-old former businessman has twice been found guilty of organising the murder of Arlene Fraser whose body has never been found.

He was jailed for life and ordered to spend at least 17 years behind bars in May last year for the crime.

Fraser has always denied involvement in the disappearance of the mother-of-two who was 33 when she vanished from her home in New Elgin, Moray on April 28 1998.

His legal team argued that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice after a witness at the trial let slip that Fraser had spent time in custody.

But judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh concluded that the trial was fair and refused the appeal today.

Speaking after the hearing, Mrs Fraser's mother Isabelle Thompson said she is "over the moon" with the decision.

"I don't know what to feel. It will take a wee while to sink in that that's it finally finished. According to what we've been told, it is the end of the road now. That's the end. Hopefully we can get on with our lives properly instead of just day by day," she said.

Her father Hector McInnes said: "I'm quite happy that it's all finished. It's a relief to know that we won't have to come back here again. He committed a crime and he should do his time."

Mr McInnes said the family has been told that Fraser can apply to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission but that he is unlikely to do so.

At last month's appeal hearing, defence QC John Scott said the remark made by Sandra Stewart in the witness box last year was prejudicial because it referred to a previous conviction Fraser had for assaulting his wife to the danger of her life weeks before she disappeared.

The comment may have led jurors, who are not told of any previous convictions of an accused person, to do their own research on the case. The "Google factor" increased the risk of jurors potentially finding prejudicial material on the internet, he said.

Lord Justice Clerk Lord Carloway, who heard the appeal with Lady Paton and Lord Drummond Young, said they were not persuaded that the remark would have prompted jurors in Edinburgh to remember anything about Fraser's previous conviction.

"Such recollection would presuppose a remarkable, and it might be reasonably surmised, implausible power of memory retention in the minds of persons with no obvious direct connection to the case, the locality or the criminal justice system," the judges said.

Jurors were, throughout the trial, given "clear and repeated" directions not to search the internet for information about Fraser.

The appeal judges did not consider that Ms Stewart's comment increased the risk of jurors researching the case online.

Directions given by the trial judge Lord Bracadale immediately after her evidence were "sufficient to meet any potential prejudice to the appellant as a result of the answers", they said.

"The court does not consider therefore that the fairness of the trial was, or might have been perceived to be, prejudiced in any material manner.

"Having considered all the material, it is unable to hold that it has been demonstrated that a miscarriage of justice has occurred."

Fraser's conviction at the High Court in Edinburgh followed a five-week retrial.

The court heard that the ex-fruit and vegetable wholesaler told a former friend that he paid a hitman £15,000 to kill his wife after she began divorce proceedings.

He was found guilty of murder in 2003 but his conviction was quashed in 2011. A fresh trial was granted after the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court in London, ruled that the initial conviction was unsafe.

Speaking outside the court, Ms Thompson criticised the appeals process.

"They speak about human rights and things like that; when you have committed a crime I don't think you should have any human rights. You are a criminal," she said.

"There seem to be more criminals walking the streets through a technicality rather than that they are innocent. If (Fraser) had walked free today, it wouldn't have been because he was innocent. It would be a technicality in the trial."

When asked if she had a message for First Minister Alex Salmond on the issue, she said: "Get rid of all these appeals."

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