THE family of Arlene Fraser said it was time to “lock the cell door” on her husband Nat after he was convicted of her murder for a second time yesterday, but said they feared their 14-year nightmare could continue if he lodges another appeal.
Fraser was jailed for life yesterday and must spend at least 17 years behind bars for organising the “shocking and wicked” killing of his estranged wife. The sentence, which followed a retrial lasting more than five weeks at the High Court in Edinburgh, is the latest court showdown in Fraser’s long history of bidding to evade justice.
Fraser was originally found guilty of the killing in 2003, but following a series of appeals his conviction was quashed last year and a fresh trial was granted. Fraser’s legal team is understood to be considering whether to pursue an appeal against the latest verdict, just as he did after his conviction at the first trial.
Last night, Mrs Fraser’s mother, Isabelle Thompson, said: “How many appeals has he got already? How many more will he be allowed to have? There comes a time when enough is enough.”
Fraser first lodged an appeal against his original murder conviction in December 2003 and in May 2005 a judge ruled the appeal should be heard. A year later he was freed from prison pending the appeal.
The appeal began in November 2007, but Fraser was dramatically sent back to prison on its conclusion the following month pending a written ruling. The appeal was rejected in May 2008.In March 2009 he lost a bid to take his fight against conviction to the Privy Council in London after three senior judges at the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh ruled it “incompetent” in law.
But in March 2011 Fraser went to the Supreme Court in London in a new bid to have his conviction overturned. Two months later five Supreme Court justices ruled the conviction unsafe.
Mrs Fraser, a mother-of-two, was 33 when she vanished from her home in New Elgin, Moray, on 28 April 1998. Her body has never been found.
Speaking after the verdict yesterday, her sister Carol Gillies, 49, said: “Every time I hear those words on radio or television, ‘remains have been found’, I stop and think it’s maybe going to be Arlene,” she said.
“But it’s never going to be, I have to accept that Nat Fraser is never going to tell us the truth.
“I think it’s time we moved on and got a bit of joy back in our lives rather than all this dark stuff we have had to deal with.
“We have lived with this for 14 years. I really appreciate that nobody has lost interest in the case, but it takes too much out of you. You become obsessed with it.”
Asked if she had a message for Fraser, she replied: “It’s not worth it, he is on his own. Just lock the cell door and leave him, leave him to serve his sentence.”
In scenes closely matching the end of the first trial in 2003, Fraser sat in the dock of the same courtroom and heard the same words, “Guilty . . . by a majority”, being spoken by the jury spokesperson. He momentarily shook his head, as if in disbelief, and rubbed his brow, but otherwise remained unemotional.
On the back row of the public benches, seated as far from Fraser as possible, Mrs Fraser’s family were more animated but held their dignity. Her father, Hector McInnes, let out a long sigh. His wife, Catherine, took off her glasses and dabbed her eyes.
Mrs Thompson revealed no trace of what she was thinking, but had tears in her eyes. Mrs Gillies tried desperately to stop her chin wavering, and then began to cry.
Fraser was ordered to stand as the judge, Lord Bracadale, imposed the mandatory sentence for murder of life imprisonment.
The judge said: “The evidence indicated that at some point before 28 April, 1998, you arranged for someone to kill your wife, Arlene, and dispose of her body.
“Thus, you instigated in cold blood the premeditated murder of your wife and the mother of your children, then aged ten and five years. The killer must have known Mrs Fraser would be at home alone on a Tuesday morning and that information must have come from you. “The murder and disposal of the body must have been carried out with ruthless efficiency for there has not been a trace of Arlene Fraser from that day to this, and her bereft family continue to live without any satisfactory knowledge of what happened to her remains.”
The judge had to fix the minimum period – the “punishment part” – Fraser must serve before he becomes eligible for parole. The period was set at 25 years after the first trial and Fraser served just short of eight years, having been released during the appeal process.
Lord Bracadale told Fraser: “The shocking and wicked nature of your involvement in the commission of this crime would merit a lengthy punishment part, well in excess of 20 years.
“Having regard to the history of the case, I shall restrict that to a period of 17 years.”
After Fraser had taken the familiar path from the dock to the cells, the judge thanked the eight women and seven men of the jury.
David Harvie, director of serious casework at the Crown Office, said: “The Crown is absolutely determined to ensuring that criminals are brought to justice for crimes they have committed, no matter the passage of time nor the legal complexities involved.”
Grampian Police welcomed the conviction.
Detective Chief Superintendent Campbell Thomson said: “Our immediate thoughts are obviously with Arlene’s family. Hector, Cathy, Isabelle, Bill, Carol and Steven have shown such courage throughout the last 14 years.”
Mrs Fraser’s father, Mr McInnes, said: “I would like to thank Grampian Police. For 14 years they have supported us. I would also like to extend my appreciation to the Crown Prosecution Service because this has been a long struggle for them as well as for us.”
Described as “possessive and controlling”, Fraser instigated the murder of his estranged wife – and the disposal of her body – after she began divorce proceedings. The trial heard a claim Fraser told former friend Hector Dick he paid a hitman £15,000 to kill her and said the body had been burned and her teeth ground up.
During the 27-day trial, the jury heard that Mrs Fraser disappeared shortly after seeing her two children – Jamie, then ten, and five-year-old Natalie – off to school. She had been due to see her solicitor that day to discuss her plans to divorce her husband after the marriage turned sour and the pair separated the previous month.
The jury was not told that the decision was prompted by an incident at the family home in which Fraser gripped his wife by the neck. He was later jailed for 18 months after admitting a charge of assault.