A veteran police officer has cast doubt on key evidence suggesting that Nat Fraser murdered his estranged wife 14 years ago.
Neil Lynch, 59, was one of the first on the scene when Mrs Fraser vanished from her Elgin home on April 28, 1998.
He told the High Court in Edinburgh that Mrs Fraser’s rings were in the house in Smith Street that night, along with a chain which could have been a necklace or a bracelet.
Earlier the trial heard how stepmother, Cathy McInnes, 75, found the engagement ring, wedding ring, and eternity ring nine days after Mrs Fraser disappeared. She insisted the jewellery had not been in the house before then. Defence QC John Scott recalled that the mystery of the rings had been described as "the cornerstone" of the prosecution case against Mr Fraser, 53.
Mr Lynch, now transport manager with the London Olympics, admitted: "I am not infallible". But he told the murder trial that he was sure the rings had been on a soap-dish stand when he checked the house soon after Arlene was reported missing. The purpose of the visit, he said, was simply to see if she had returned and he and a colleague checked every room in the house. Mr Lynch said he did not know why he was not called as a witness when Mr Fraser first stood trial in January 2003.
The jury has seen video taken at the house in Smith Street, New Elgin, on April 29, 1998. The footage shows a bathroom shelf bearing a soap dish. Underneath the shelf is a dowel peg where Mrs McInnes said she found the rings. The dowel is clearly empty. And, the trial heard, 60 police officers visited the house in the early days of the inquiry and only two claim to have seen the rings there.
Mr Lynch told how he checked the Fraser home almost hourly during the night of April 28 and into the early hours of April 29. Mr Lynch said: "The one thing which has stuck in my mind is that I noticed jewellery. As far as I can recollect there were three rings and a yellow metal necklace or chain. It could have been a bracelet or it could have been a necklace, I cannot be certain."
The former police officer told the trial: "I thought it unusual for a woman to leave home without what appeared to me to be a wedding ring, engagement ring, and eternity ring."
Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, asked Mr Lynch if he was clear about the timing of his sighting.
"I am as sure as I can be, bearing in mind the time that has elapsed," he replied. Mr Lynch continued: "I am not infallible by any means. I could be mistaken. I don't believe I was mistaken."
Mr Scott asked Mr Lynch is he was aware that in the 2003 trial "there was a great deal of significance attached to these rings." "I am now," Mr Lynch told him. "Were you aware it was the cornerstone of the Crown case. Are you familiar with that expression?" asked Mr Scott. Mr Lynch, who retired in August 2002, said he wasn't. He said the significance of items round the Smith Street house might have been greater if it had been a murder inquiry from the start - but he did not attach any particular importance to the rings when he first saw them.
"It was just a personal observation, a fleeting thought: The rings are still there," he said, but never mentioned what he had seen during any of the inquiry team's morning briefings. The importance of the rings first became apparent, he said, when he was talking to an assistant in Elgin procurator fiscal's office about the evidence he could give in the 2003 trial. He was told he should go back to senior officers in the investigation to discuss "significant parts" of his statement.
"I was told I was wrong about the rings," he said. He told Mr Scott that the meeting left him "bewildered."
The court heard that investigations continued after Mr Fraser's first trial and Mr Lynch was questioned by officers from Strathclyde Police in November 2006 who played "good cop, bad cop" with him.
"Were you told either you were trying to mislead them or lying to them?" asked Mr Scott. "Put bluntly, I was told I was lying," said Mr Lynch. He said the interview was "accusatory" and he threw them out of his house.
"I told them I was trying to assist them and they should modify their interview technique," he said. He complained to a senior officer, received an apology, and the interview continued later that day.
Mr Lynch told the trial: "I acknowledged that I may be wrong - but not lying." Mr Scott asked: "Do you think you saw the rings as you described today?" Mr Lynch responded: "That is my belief, my recollection." Mr Lynch continued: "I am not wrong. I believe I am right but I concede I could be wrong. I don't believe I am."
"Is there a single reason for you to lie about having seen the rings?" asked Mr Scott. "None whatsoever," replied Mr Lynch. "I have simply related my recollection and told the truth."
Fruit and vegetable wholesaler Mr Fraser denies attacking his 33-year-old wife 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 Mr Fraser says he knew Mrs Fraser had seen a solicitor about divorcing him and getting a cash pay-off.
Mr 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 7.30am and spent the day making van deliveries to hotels, restaurants and shops - pausing to make a phone call just after 9am. Mr Fraser also claims that if his wife 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 and given evidence for the prosecution. Another man on trial then, Glenn Lucas, was now dead. The third man was Mr Fraser.
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