John and Doris Fraser on their wedding day, 29 April 1943. [Pic: Fraser family]
The fourth day of Alex Bateman’s trial for the theft of the logbook of Dams Raid bomb aimer Flt Sgt John Fraser began with defence counsel Samantha Wright producing a photocopy of the document which has been the centre of attention in the case. This overnight development, which the judge, Judge John Dodd QC, would later call an ‘astonishing revelation’, looked rather mundane when shown to the case participants in Courtroom 2 in Wood Green Crown Court: a set of black and white photocopies in an ordinary plastic wallet.
The copy had been located overnight in a filing cabinet in his storage unit, Bateman told prosecuting counsel Max Hardy. The copy had been made in about 2003, he said. I suggest that you made this copy before selling the logbook, said Hardy. Bateman replied, ‘No.’
The judge then asked: ‘At the close of evidence two days ago, you said “I never copied it”. Was that a mistaken answer or a lie?’ Bateman replied: ‘It was not a lie.’ ‘Has anyone ever asked you if you have a copy?’ the judge continued. ‘No, I have never been asked,’ he replied. ‘If you hadn’t been asked, then that copy would have remained in your filing cabinet,’ the judge then observed.
Max Hardy then began his closing statement to the jury by asking them to imagine how they would feel if he had borrowed an item of value from them, and then proceeded to sell it. ‘It is very, very likely that the reason why Mr Bateman doesn’t have the logbook any more is because he sold it.’ he said. ‘But the trial is not about whether he sold it, but whether he stole it,’ he went on.
He suggested that Bateman had engaged in a long and convoluted charade: a demonstration of good faith, in the hope that John Fraser’s daughter, Shere Fraser Lowe, would accept that the document had been lost in the post.
Another act in the charade had been the Christmas card, Hardy continued. The defence had offered no evidence against the handwriting expert whose ‘strong opinion’ was that the writing was by someone different from the person who had written the other cards. The message it contained, bluntly blurting out ‘Just keep the logbook’, was designed with one purpose in mind: to put an end to the request for its return from Shere Fraser Lowe.
Bateman had also claimed that he found Ms Fraser Lowe’s behaviour ‘intimidating’. This was not a case where heavies had been sent around with baseball bats, but a perfectly reasonable request for a meeting, Hardy observed.
The charade went on, Hardy said. There had been an email, allegedly written in May 2003 and purportedly from the late ‘John Fraser’ himself. This had alluded to Bateman’s ‘difficulties with the Public Record Office.’ ‘But who knew about that in 2003?’ Hardy asked.
The final act in the charade had been the ‘burglary’ at his home. A desperate situation called for desperate measures. Bateman needed to create a situation where the logbook was gone for good. The burglary gave him a chance to say once and for all, that he couldn’t return it because it was gone.
Hardy concluded by saying that Bateman was a grown man who knew perfectly well what he was doing. And he regretted that he had to say to the jury that Bateman had been dishonest throughout.
In her summary speech, defence counsel Samantha Wright told the jury that Bateman had not stolen the logbook. He had no intention to keep it forever, and at no time did he refuse to return it. ‘It had gone missing,’ she said, ‘because it had been stolen in a burglary.’
Bateman has a passionate interest in Dambusters research, she said, but he did not himself collect Dambusters memorabilia. He had built his knowledge with dedicated research, sending hundreds of letters over 30 years. ‘The information is its own reward,’ she added. She went through many of the other incidents which had occurred. When it came to the burglary, she pointed out that there was nothing in the police report to say that it was anything other than a genuine burglary.
Altogether, Bateman was nervous and suspicious of Shere Fraser Lowe’s motives in asking for the return of the logbook, she said. Fraser Lowe was the ‘driving force’ in getting the logbook back. There was nothing sinister in that, but she was emotionally involved in the issue.
Following counsels’ summaries, the judge summed up the case. It was important, he said, to keep emotion outside. You are entitled to draw inferences from evidence – that is no more than common sense – but you must not indulge in speculation. The burden was on the prosecution to make you sure of someone’s guilt, he said, and if you’re sure, you convict. The law says that theft occurs if a person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another person with the intention to permanently deprive them of it.
The judge went through the evidence in detail, reminding the jury that the central figure was John Fraser, who he described as a ‘brave young man’ who had been part of the Canadian contribution in the war against Hitler, and flown as a bomb aimer on the Dams Raid. He noted that there was a poignant last line in the recently uncovered copy of the logbook, in someone else’s handwriting: ‘Missing’. [Although it would subsequently emerge that Fraser had been captured after his aircraft was shot down on the raid, and he would see out the rest of the conflict as a prisoner of war.]
When it came to the sudden disclosure by Bateman that all long he had possessed a copy of the logbook, the judge said this was an ‘astonishing revelation’, considering what he had said before. His account of the circumstances may be a palpable untruth. But whatever it is, he added, and whether or not it assists you in your deliberations, only you can decide.
The jury of seven women and five men retired at 12.20pm to consider their verdict. At 4.15pm, the judge called them back in and told them that if they needed further time they should come back in the morning. He warned them not to discuss the case with each other outside the jury room, or with family and friends.
The case continues tomorrow.