Decade since final chapter of horror Arlene Fraser case, with murderer Nat Fraser still seven years from release
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IT has been 10 years since we covered the last chapter of the Arlene Fraser murder case – Nat Fraser's final unsuccessful appeal.
Our story, published October 11, 2013, recorded the family's relief at the verdict.
In 2012, Fraser appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh charged with Arlene's 1998 murder – and the disposal of her body never to be found.
"shocking and wicked" - Judge Lord Bracadale
He was sentenced to life for what the judge called a "shocking and wicked" crime.
However, this was not the first time Fraser had been sent down for his wife's murder.
The trial whipped up media coverage across the country, as daily revelations from the High Court in Edinburgh were plastered across papers and television screens.
Moray and the world watched on as: Fraser's co-accused close friend turned Crown witness; a statement recorded the murderer admitting his "festering" jealousy when he believed Arlene was seeing others; forensics experts were "baffled"; and the convicted Fraser "collapsed" in the dock.
The court also heard as Fraser was grilled at length over his wife's disappearance; and was told that a lip-reader found talk of "arms off'', "teeth out" and "they can't find her'' in a silent video of a prison visit (the lip reader's credentials were later questioned).
One of our stories after the verdict – which is available online for the first time as part of newly-published Northern Scot archives – had the headline 'Justice has finally been done'.
But – after five years – we were only at the beginning.
And over the coming decade, we would be forced to reconsider many of the stories which had most captured the public imagination.
All of the stories released as part of the Northern Scot archives are available in our interactive guide below:
The three rings
However, eight days later, the rings were found there.
''This is the cornerstone of the entire case against him" - Advocate Depute Alan Turnbull
Mr Turnbull told the jury that this meant Fraser: had access to Arlene's body; had removed her wedding, engagement and eternity rings; and had placed them back in the bathroom.
And, as a result, the rings were the "most compelling" evidence of his guilt available.
He told the jury: ''This is the cornerstone of the entire case against him, and a piece of evidence that Mr Fraser has simply not explained.
"It demonstrates his complicity and guilt beyond any doubt. He has no explanation, because he made a mistake and has been caught by that mistake."
And, in a piece of courtroom high-drama, our January 31, 2003 story reports: "One by one Mr Turnbull placed Arlene's engagement, wedding and eternity rings on his own fingers."
Mr Turnbull added: "These are the rings that he gave to his young wife, the mother of his children. How ironic that these tokens of love, permanence and fidelity should end up being his undoing – the undoing of a husband who became consumed by jealousy and greed.
"They tell us eloquently, and as powerfully as a witness who saw what happened, that Nat Fraser killed Arlene.
"There is something inherently just that even after death," he added, "something of Arlene's can reach back and ensnare the man who promised he would live with her forever and took her life because it no longer suited his purposes."
Describing the rings as the "most compelling" evidence, he also told the jury: ''The rings will provide you with the security you need to rest happy at night that you have brought some justice to this case."
But the perfect irony Mr Turnbull described was not as simple as it appeared.
Three years after the 2003 trial, Fraser was released on bail pending the outcome of his appeal against the original verdict.
Key to his appeal, heard by the Court of Appeal in 2007, was that two officers had seen Arlene's rings in the bathroom on the night she disappeared.
Fraser's solicitor Peter Gray claimed the officers had been "hung out to dry", because their evidence would be "extremely inconvenient" for the case against Fraser.
Read to the court during the appeal, a statement from Mr Turnbull said: "I'm certain I was told a police officer had seen the rings at Arlene's house following her disappearance but prior to their reappearance on May 7.
"I have a clear recollection of being firmly reassured that the officer concerned had made a mistake" – Mr Turnbull
However, the statement added: “I have a clear recollection of being firmly reassured that the officer concerned had made a mistake and the impression that was left was that he himself acknowledged that.”
Mr Gray claimed this meant that a senior police figure, as well as the then-procurator fiscal for Elgin, had lied to Mr Turnbull.
The court was also told how one of the officers who saw the rings was reduced to tears, as she told then-procurator fiscal for Elgin Sharon Ralph of how she feared being branded a "grass".
The fiscal's statement said: “(Constable Clark) said it's really terrible, I’m going to be branded a grass. I have no-one to talk to, my career is over”.
However, this was only a prelude to the case reaching the UK's final stop for appeals – the Supreme Court.
'Miscarriage of justice'
Following a process which began in 2010, Fraser's case appeared before the Supreme Court in March 2011.
In May of that year, the five sitting judges backed his appeal, requesting that the High Court in Scotland quash his conviction – but the Crown Office immediately announced plans to bring a fresh case against Fraser.
Arlene’s family described the supreme court decision as "bitterly disappointing".
"it is that principle that has made the decision which we have taken today inevitable.” – Lord Hope
The court heard that, as the contradicting statements on Arlene's rings were never disclosed by the Crown, Fraser had not been given a fair trial.
Delivering his verdict, Lord Hope said the statements could have raised "reasonable doubt" about Fraser's actions in terms of the rings.
A miscarriage of justice had taken place as a result, he added, because the jury would have been forced to make a difference verdict were the statements known about – given how the case had been presented.
However, another of the five judges also described the “great strength of the Crown’s evidence as a whole” against Mr Fraser.
But, he added: “Fairness lies at the heart of our system of criminal justice and it is that principle that has made the decision which we have taken today inevitable.”
The 2012 trial
The second trial saw familiar wounds reopened, and all aspects of the case placed under the microscope.
Faced with building the case again, without the "cornerstone" ring evidence, the Crown again relied on a host of witnesses – including Moray farmer Hector Dick.
Described as The Riddler, once-murder-accused Dick admitted telling lies to the police and Crown since the beginning of the investigation but again denied killing Arlene.
However, he also told of shocking statements by Fraser, including a confession that he hired a hitman to kill Arlene and then disposed of the body himself.
Dick also said Fraser was concerned about the cost of a likely divorce from Arlene, which the murderer expected to cost him £86,000, and had proposed a scheme to to "do his wife out of ten grand".
"I felt it was terrible that he could joke about anything like that. He didn’t seem to be upset about anything" – Arlene's mother
The court also heard from police that Fraser told specialist search teams: "you are wasting your time" as they scoured the family home for evidence.
"I felt it was terrible that he could joke about anything like that. He didn’t seem to be upset about anything," she said.
Also featuring heavily in the 2012 case, were details of the awful domestic situation, involving controlling abuse and violence Arlene which appears to have faced.
"If you are not going to live with me you are not going to be living with anyone." – Fraser
Originally charged with attempted murder, based on the severity of the attack, the charge was later reduced to severe assault to the danger of life.
Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC said: "It is a case of a possessive, controlling man who could not bear to see his young wife be parted from him, who could not bear the thought of his wife with another man, who could not bear the thought of another man bringing up his children, could not bear to lose the money which was so important to him.
"On the evidence there is only one person in the world who has a motive to kill Arlene Fraser." – Alex Prentice QC
"These thoughts festered in his head and gnawed at him to such an extent that he organised the murder of his wife.
"The Crown case against Nat Fraser is that he initiated, instigated and organised the murder of his wife."
He added: "On the evidence there is only one person in the world who has a motive to kill Arlene Fraser."
The court also heard that Arlene had organised a meeting with a divorce solicitor, chiming with Mr Prentice's claims of Nat's financial motive.
At the close of the case, after five hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict.
"Dad Hector McInnes (75), let out a long sigh and step-mum Cathy took off her spectacles and dabbed her eyes." – Northern Scot
A Northern Scot story from May 30, 2012, recording the verdict, charts the courtroom reaction to the announcement.
It reads: "The majority verdict – which deleted from the charge the allegation that Arlene had been strangled – was greeted with a slight shake of the head by Fraser and a wiping of his brow.
"In the public benches the obvious tension in the faces of Arlene's family dissolved.
"Dad Hector McInnes (75), let out a long sigh and step-mum Cathy took off her spectacles and dabbed her eyes.
"Mum Isabelle Thompson (66), revealed no trace of what she was thinking."
And, in a scathing judgement, Lord Judge Bracadale told Fraser: "you instigated in cold blood the pre-meditated murder of your wife and mother of your children, then aged ten and five years.
"The murder and disposal of the body must have been carried out with ruthless efficiency for there is not a trace of Arlene Fraser from that day to this and her bereft family continue to live with no satisfactory knowledge of what happened to her remains."
The final chapter
After the High Court's verdict, Fraser made a final attempt to lodge an appeal for his freedom.
However, despite claims of new evidence, and several court appearances, the bid was denied.
"Throughout it all, Arlene’s parents and sister have maintained great dignity, earning plaudits for their perseverance in seeing Nat Fraser is brought to justice while keeping up their spirits through the fluctuating fortunes of what has been a truly extraordinary investigation." – Northern Scot
As a result, the twice-convicted murderer seems to have nowhere left to turn.
The darkest chapter in Moray history appears to have come as close to ending as is possible.
"A huge sense of relief broke out among the many people in the justice system who had battled so long and so hard to win justice for the family of Arlene Fraser – and that family has had to endure 14 years of hell.
"Not content with the loss of the then young mum in mysterious and tragic circumstances, they have had the weeks, months and years of searches, investigations, a trial and numerous appeals – and now another trial.
"Throughout it all, Arlene’s parents and sister have maintained great dignity, earning plaudits for their perseverance in seeing Nat Fraser is brought to justice while keeping up their spirits through the fluctuating fortunes of what has been a truly extraordinary investigation.
"They had the high of seeing him convicted in 2003 then the despair last year of a second trial being ordered – and now relief again.
"But what they would want most of all is to know what happened to Arlene.
"Only one man can end their agony, and he is not telling; nor do they expect him to.
"Nat Fraser may try to set in motion more attempts to prove his innocence, so it may not be over for Arlene’s family, if you can ever get over the loss of a loved daughter and sister, a mother and a friend to many.
"Fraser’s former business partner, Ian Taylor, tells ‘The Scot’ that Nat Fraser should now come clean, and we would support that call.
"Please, tell what happened to Arlene.
"There has been a funeral service but no burial, so Arlene’s family can never accept any kind of closure to this nightmarish episode in their lives.
"They deserve that at least."
The ordinary day which began 25 years of agony
Our story from May 30, 2012, contained a chilling description of what we know about Arlene's final moments:
"Just five weeks before Arlene vanished from the family home in Smith Street, New Elgin, Fraser had half-throttled her for coming back late.
"An allegation of attempted murder, later reduced to a serious assault earned him an 18 month jail sentence.
"The stormy marriage had previously led her to seek help in a women's refuge.
"Both trials heard that, on April 28, 1998, Arlene phoned her son's primary school at 9.41am to ask what time ten-year-old Jamie was expected to return from a school anti-litter campaign.
"Clerical assistant Margaret Boyce (68), got no answer when she tried to return the call minutes later.
"A friend, Michelle Scott (46), arrived just after 11am to check that a lunch date was still on, and found the house empty.
"A note she left, asking Arlene to phone her, was later found, together with a poignant plea from Jamie, scrawled on a piece of paper and left on the doorstep: 'Mother, where are U!'
"Arlene, trying to make full use of a day off from her business studies college course, also had an appointment to see her solicitor that afternoon about her divorce plans. She never kept the appointment.
"As Arlene phoned New Elgin Primary School, her husband was also on the phone – to Hazel Walker (43), in Fochabers.
"Fraser, driving around in his delivery lorry decorated with cartoon characters Jamie Jaffa and Natalie Nectarine, after his kids, had made daily calls to Mrs Walker since they met in a hotel where Fraser's band, The Minesweepers, was playing a gig.
For more archive stories, visit the Archives tab on the Northern Scot website.