Flt Sgt (later Pilot Officer) John Fraser, bomb aimer in AJ-M on the Dams Raid. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]
The trial of Alex Bateman for the theft of a logbook belonging to Doris Fraser, the widow of Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer in John Hopgood’s Dams Raid crew, began on Monday 9 January at Wood Green Crown Court.
The RCAF logbook had been returned to John Fraser after the war, but following his death in a plane crash in Canada in 1962, his widow had put it aside. In 1996, she offered to help Bateman when she read a newspaper article about his research and sent it to him to help. By this, she said in a statement read out in court, she believed that she was helping to honour his memory.
Relations between the pair remained friendly for a number of years thereafter, and they exchanged Christmas cards.
In late 2002, however, Mrs Fraser’s daughter Shere Fraser Lowe started her own research into her father’s wartime career. By coincidence she had been informed of Bateman’s interest in the Dams Raid by another Dambuster relative, she told the court in evidence by video link, and shortly afterwards she became aware of the logbook’s existence.
When she first contacted Bateman herself, he sent her a friendly letter and returned some documents, but did not mention the logbook, she said. In a later email, however, Bateman wrote: ’regarding the logbook, yes, I do have it and was going to mention it to you … I’ll put the log in the post in the next few days and let you know.’
A Jiffy bag postmarked 18 February 2003 arrived in the mail, but there was a slit in the bottom, and there was no logbook inside. It contained a cassette taped to a piece of card, which also had a letter stapled to it. This read: ‘Dear Shere, here as promised is the log book of your father – I know you will find it of interest and it’s a pleasure to return it to its rightful owners.’
Prosecution barrister Max Hardy told the jury of seven women and five men: ‘It’s the prosecution’s case that this was a ruse – it was Mr Bateman pretending to return the logbook to Shere Lowe.’
Fraser Lowe told the court that she immediately telephoned Bateman in London. He emailed her shortly afterwards saying that there was ‘good news… the book has been found in our sorting office. I will pick it up later today and give it to you when we meet.’
Fraser Lowe told the court that she offered to fly to London herself the following week, but Bateman said that he would not be available. He would, however, see her in May 2003 when Fraser Lowe and her mother planned to travel to the UK for the 60th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
After this exchange, the Fraser family instructed a British firm of solicitors to demand the return of the logbook, but it never materialised.
then, before the planned reunion, Bateman produced a Christmas card purportedly from Mrs Fraser gifting him the logbook and asked Ms Fraser Lowe not to phone him anymore.
The Christmas card read: ‘Dear Alex, thank you for your letter but please keep the logbook, you might find it useful. All the very best for the New Year, Doris Fraser.’
Mr Hardy said: ‘This reveals Mr Bateman’s true intention in this case which was to keep that logbook for himself saying it had been gifted to him.
‘That whole envelope thing was to try and say he had sent it to her, but perhaps he had second thoughts about saying it had fallen out in the post.’
The court was told that a handwriting expert would say that there was strong evidence that the Christmas card was written by someone other than Mrs Fraser. Mrs Fraser was herself adamant in her sworn statement she did not write the card. ’It has been faked,’ she said.
The Fraser family then took their story to the press, and the Sunday Express approached Bateman for a comment. An article appeared on 28 June 2003, but the day before on Saturday 27 June 2003, Bateman reported a burglary at his address and claimed that the logbook was among the items stolen.
The case continues, and is expected to last for another 2-3 days.