NAT FRASER, fighting to clear his name after two juries have found him guilty of the hit-man murder of his estranged wife, claims the “Google Factor” stopped him getting a fair trial.
Former fruit and veg salesman Fraser (54) has been protesting his innocence since wife Arlene vanished from her Elgin home in April 1998 when his son and daughter were at primary school.
Fraser (pictured), who recently became a grandfather when daughter Natalie gave birth, saw his latest attempt to be re-united with his children take less than an hour at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh today.
Fraser now has to wait for appeal judges to issue their decision at a later date but the court heard that even if he is successful, one possible outcome is a third murder trial.
Defence QC John Scott told Lord Justice Clerk Lord Carloway, sitting with Lady Paton and Lord Drummond Young that Fraser’s trial in May last year should have been halted when cafe owner Sandra Stewart, recalling a conversation with Fraser in the aftermath of his wife’s disappearance, let slip that Faser had recently been in prison.
Mr Scott argued that might have prompted jurors to ignore warnings from trial judge Lord Bracadale and do some “research” of their own.
They could have discovered that Fraser had spent a few days on remand after being charged with attempting to murder Arlene (33), an attack which was described as “the last straw” in their marriage and for which Fraser later served a jail sentence after pleading guilty to a reduced charge.
Mr Scott told the appeal judges: “The Google factor is now well recognised in this and other juristictions.”
The lawyer argued that a few clicks could reveal a wealth of information on the internet - some of it innacurate - which could prejudice a jury.
Mr Scott said the trial judge had repeatedly told jurors not to do this, but added: “There comes a point where too much is being asked of a jury and too much was asked of them here.”
Mr Scott added that if he were right the court and prosecutors would have to consider ordering a new trial.
“No-one wants to have to go through that again,” he said.
Advocate depute Iain McSporran, for the Crown, said Mr Scott was wrong and the murder conviction should stand.
There was no reason to suppose the jury would not do as they were told and no reason to suppose they would link a few days on remand to an attack on Arlene.
Mr McSporran continued: “It would only be possible for someone with an intimate knowledge of the procedural history of the case to work that out.”
He told the judges there was “no logical basis” for arguing that Mrs Stewart’s remarks might prompt jurors to ignore the judge’s clear warnings.
Members of Arlene’s family were again in court.
Afterwards mum Isabelle Thompson said: “I have lost count of how many times we have been here. Every time it happens it takes us right back to the begining again, but we are holding up.”
“Fraser has got nothing else to do with his time,” she added.
Dad Hector McInnes (72) said he was “optimistic” that Fraser would fail again, but cautioned: “I am not a legal professional.”
And he advised his former son-in-law: “Given the length of sentence he has done he would be better to stop appealing. He has a better chance of getting out with the parole board.”
At the end of Fraser’s second trial in May last year Lord Bracadale ordered him to serve at least 17 years before he could apply for release on licence. The murder was “cold blooded and pre-meditated” he told Fraser.
Two lengthy trial have now heard that Fraser hired a hit-man to murder Arlene, who vanished from her home in Smith Street, New Elgin, on April 28 1998.
After the first guilty verdict in 2003, Fraser lost one appeal then went over the heads of Scottish judges to the Supreme Court.
Years of legal wrangling led to a re-trial because information about the disappearance and mystery re-appearance of Arlene’s rings had not been passed on to defence lawyers.
After a second guilty verdict in May last year Fraser began the appeal process again.
Both trials have rejected Fraser’s alibi - that he was on his delivery rounds that day - and his claim that former friend, farmer Hector Dick (56), of Mosstowie near Elgin was the real killer.
Both juries heard that Fraser was seething with jealousy because he suspected his wife might have a lover. He was also worried that divorce might mean mum-of-two Arlene walking away with a large chunk of his money.
“If you are not going to live with me, you are not going to be living with anybody,” he fumed.