THE ARLENE Fraser murder trial heard today how her expensive rings were found in her home days after she disappeared.
Arlene’s step mum, Catherine McInnes (75), recalled the surprise find 14 years ago.
She told the High Court in Edinburgh that she had "taken over the housework" in Arlene’s home in Smith Street, New Elgin and there were no rings in the bathroom during the early days.
Mrs McInnes, now of Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, was shown video footage taken by police the day after mum-of-two Arlene (33), vanished and there were no rings on a dowel rod under a soap dish at the wash-hand basin.
Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, asked Mrs McInnes if she would have seen the rings while cleaning.
"Yes, they would have been obvious," she told him.
Mrs McInnes said she had also helped search Arlene’s home for her passport, medication or other clues which might help solve the mystery of she step-daughter’s whereabouts.
The rings would have been a significant find, she told Mr Prentice.
The prosecutor asked her if anything had happened on May 7, 1998 - nine days after Arlene was last seen.
Mrs McInnes said is was just after 3pm: "I went into the bathroom to use the toilet and, of course, washed my hands afterwards and I noticed jewellery on the dowell - three rings."
In court she was shown a gold eternity ring, diamond and gold wedding ring and a saphire engagement ring and confirmed they had belonged to her step-daughter.
"I removed them from the dowel," said Mrs McInnes. "I just couldn’t understand where they had come from. They definitely weren’t there before."
She said the rings were put back on the dowel to await the daily visit from the police.
She told the trial that at the time Nat Fraser had been in the house for about an hour and was upstairs.
Mrs McInnes said she had found the missing rings about 3pm because husband Hector had gone to meet the Fraser children out of school.
Defence QC John Scott suggested Mrs McInnes had not always been so certain about the timing of the find.
The lawyer produced a statement she had made to police in October 1998 which read: "It was mid-morning on that day when I found them.
"I cannot remember if Nat was in the house that morning. He probably was in the house the previous evening."
Mrs McInnes told the trial she had simply flicked over the pages of the statement and signed them without reading them properly.
"Whoever wrote this made a mistake because I did not find them in the morning," she added.
Mrs McInnes told the trial that she thought the rings important because they were expensive and if Arlene had simply left home she could have taken them to sell for cash.
Mr Scott also suggested that, at the time, no great significance was attached to the discovery.
Mrs McInnes had told police: "I remember telling Hector (her husband) but he didn't make a big fuss or I would have remembered."
She told Mr Scott: "Hector never makes a fuss about anything."
Mrs McInnes made another statement in April 2006. She told police: "Not until much later did I realise the importance of the discovery, and I mean years later."
She described how the family had gathered in October 1998 to watch the video taken by police the day after Arlene disappeared.
"We all said with more or less one voice: 'Where are the rings?'" said Mrs McInnes. She said they were "puzzled" because Fraser had insisted that the rings had been in the house all the time.
She also described a tense atmosphere in the Smith Street house whenever Fraser was there.
Mrs Isabelle Thompsom, Arlene's mum, had challenged Fraser, demanding to know if he had anything to do with her daughter's disappearance and suggesting he should "come clean."
Mrs McInnes said: "He was shocked she would ask him that question.
"He was jumpy and his eyes were rolling in his head.
"It was really odd. It is hard to explain."
Fraser (53), denies attacking wife Arlene (33), between April 28 and May 7, 1998 at the home they once shared in Smith Street, New Elgin, or elsewhere in Scotland.
It is alleged that he strangled her or murdered her "by other means to the prosecutor unknown."
The indictment against Fraser says he knew Arlene had seen a solicitor about divorcing him and getting a cash pay-off.
Fruit and veg wholesaler Fraser has lodged papers in court claiming that 14 years ago on April 28 he left the address in Burnside Road, Lhanbryde, where he was staying at about 7.30a. and spent the day making van deliveries to hotels, restaurants and shops - pausing to make a phone call just after 9am.
Fraser also claims that if mum-of-two Arlene was murdered, as prosecutors claim, the man responsible could be Hector Dick of Mosstowie, Elgin.
The jury has heard that there had been an earlier trial in 2003 when Hector Dick had been one of three men accused of murdering Arlene, but had left the dock to give evidence for the prosecution.
Another man on trial then, Glenn Lucas, was now dead. The third man was Fraser.
The trial continues....