Martin Hanna: TV trial verdict’s a favourable one

Alex Prentice QC. Picture: Channel 4
Alex Prentice QC. Picture: Channel 4
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EVEN though most of us knew the outcome of the case, the television documentary The Murder Trial still proved to be riveting and thoroughly thought-provoking.

The supporters of Nat Fraser will still say that, despite being found guilty twice, he is innocent of the murder of his wife Arlene, and the man himself will no doubt never give up his efforts to be free – he has already lodged an appeal against this second conviction. But I feel that most objective viewers of the programme that featured Fraser’s re-trial on the murder charge will have concluded that he was guilty and that justice was done.

A little bit of history was made with this programme largely shot here in the High Court in Edinburgh. For the first time we were able to see a recording of the proceedings in a major trial, and also get a genuine glimpse behind the scenes of Scottish justice.

Alex Prentice QC proved to be a resolute prosecutor, and has now achieved what must be a record as he has gained convictions in two murder cases where there was no body, the other being the murder of local woman Suzanne Pilley.

Solicitor advocate John Scott QC did his very best to defend Fraser, and came across as a top lawyer who genuinely cares about such things as the rights of an accused.

Lord Bracadale was the epitome of a wise judge, and he should be thanked for allowing the cameras into his courtroom.

Fraser never went into the dock himself, and the jury drew their own conclusions. They also chose to believe chief prosecution witness Hector Dick, about whom not even the Crown lawyers were convinced.

We never saw the jury, and that is only right, but I would have liked to have seen their faces when, after they had convicted Fraser, his criminal convictions were revealed to include one for wife assault shortly before she disappeared. Bet they were relieved.

It was the jury that made the decision to convict Fraser and that’s why I believe many more trials should be televised. For that single Channel 4 programme probably did more to educate the Scottish public about the reality of a major court case than 100 episodes of Law and Order – a great series, accurate in its portrayal of the justice process, but set in England with its different legal system.

Let’s face it, most people are pretty ignorant about jury service and what it entails. It’s probably the only time that the vast majority of people go into court, and I know from talking to people who’ve served on juries over the years that it can be a quite overwhelming experience, not least because of the panoply of the law.

So let’s have more educational trials on television, and while I am at it, The Murder Trial conclusively proved for me that the balance of justice has swung too far in favour of the defendant rather than the victim.

The jury should have had the right to know that Fraser had badly assaulted his wife. An accused person’s convictions show what kind of character he or she is, and the prosecution should have the right to tell the jury about previous convictions before the verdict is delivered.

The auld enemy?

I couldn’t help but notice a BBC newsreader’s question the other day. She asked a colleague about the women’s football European Championship and asked how will “we” get on, before quickly correcting herself to say how will “England” do. That attitude should annoy us Scots, but it doesn’t – as we’re used to it now.

Don’t try to fix the High Street, it’s not broken

THE ongoing review of the High Street area should take account of one thing – that it is a very successful shopping district. The proof of that is the rental figures which are being gained for properties in and around the Royal Mile.

I’m told that a retail premises, Taste of Scotland’s new location on North Bridge, has become the second local property in a few weeks to gain an annual rental income of £65,000, or much more than £1000 per week.

That figure would not be achieved unless the area was successful, so let’s not fix what isn’t broke.

National force was never a good idea

I ONCE expressed my misgivings about the creation of a national police force. In short, I was pretty convinced that the police’s local accountability to elected politicians would ­disappear out the window, and I fear I’m being proven ­correct by the day – the review of local police office ­opening hours revealed by the Evening News last week is a case in point.

My columnist ­colleague Margo MacDonald has already had to give Police Scotland a roasting for their new tough approach to the sex industry in the Capital, and now there are genuine fears for the future of some police ­stations around the city.

Taking the police out of certain localities just should not happen. Edinburgh needs its cops in our ­communities.

Turnbull knew Andy’s quality

After the late Eddie Turnbull met Andy Murray a few years ago, he told me while we were writing his memoirs that Murray would mature into a world-beater. Right again, Eddie.