Alex Bateman has been sent to jail for two years following his conviction for the theft of the logbook belonging to Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer who flew in John Hopgood’s crew on the Dams Raid in May 1943.
Bateman was found guilty last month after a five day trial in Wood Green Crown Court, and appeared today for sentencing.
John Fraser’s daughter Shere Fraser Lowe had flown from her home in Washington State, USA, to attend the hearing. Prosecuting counsel Jollyon Robertson summarised the victim personal statement which she had submitted to the court, and then invited her to take the witness stand. She described how she had been ‘overjoyed’ when Bateman promised to return the logbook to her in 2003, and how distraught she and her mother had been when they were sent a damaged envelope from which the logbook was missing. Her mother was actually physically sick, she recalled. The loss of the logbook had been a lasting deep and emotional scar.
Robertson went on to give more details about the caution given to Bateman in 2003 for the theft of material from the Public Record Office, now the National Archives. He read from a statement made by William Spencer, Principal Specialist: Military Records in the National Archives. This described how an investigation of another individual had elicited Bateman’s name. At the PRO’s request, police went to Bateman’s address and recovered some material. The PRO then requested that a further search take place, and this time Spencer accompanied the police. They found a number of items including two documents of significance relating to 617 Squadron, and an Air Corps training badge. All of these had been removed from the PRO.
However, although the case was passed to the police, it never went to court and an official police caution had been administered.
In mitigation, defence counsel Samantha Wright said that Bateman was struggling to cope. She read a letter which he had written to the court in which he described how he had spent two-thirds of his life researching the Dams Raid, in order, as he said, to ‘pay tribute to those who had served in Bomber Command.’ Wright went on to say that in Bateman’s eyes, he had lost everything. He had had no employment for some 13 years, and was ‘emotionally frail’.
Having heard the submissions, Judge John Dodd QC said that he had given Bateman every opportunity to restore the logbook to its rightful owners. ‘I had hoped that you would have done the decent thing,’ he said. ‘But you maintained the position you had taken during the trial.’
‘The jury plainly didn’t believe you, and neither do I. You lied repeatedly to conceal the truth as to what had happened to the logbook. It remains a mystery as to what you actually did with it.’
‘You have been involved in the theft of historical material for some time, and you are well aware of its financial value.’
‘It is my view that this offence is so serious as to call for a term of immediate imprisonment.’
‘It will be plain to you that I consider this to be a despicable offence involving, as it did, abusing the trust placed in you, presenting yourself as a genuine historian, by the widow of a war hero.’
‘You decided to keep the log book treating it as your own, and misleading the family when they sought its return, which added to their sense of loss and betrayal.’
He sentenced him to a term of two years, saying that he would be released on licence after 12 months.
The judge also set a date for a confiscation hearing in April to settle the matter of compensation.
Speaking later outside the court, Shere Fraser Lowe said it was important that relics of the war were not treated as ‘commodities’.
‘What we value most is upholding my father’s memory and his legacy and his courage,’ she said.
‘For future generations, the log book details his missions, it details his whole service. War is terrible but what is important is that we recognise the courage and the bravery, and we never abuse it – we never treat these items as a commodity.’
‘I know there are good historians and I know there are honest collectors out there. I’m not out to say anything bad about that. But what I want is a balance of respect and trust maintained.’
Fraser Lowe urged anyone who knew where the logbook was to come forward and said the family would never give up hope of getting it back.
‘It can’t be sold on now, and will forever be hunted until it is back with my family. It belongs to its rightful owners,’ she said. ‘I hope that Mr Bateman reflects on this and finds it in his heart to disclose [its] whereabouts.’
There has been a further positive outcome from the police investigation. Among the items found in the police search of Bateman’s house in July 2015 was a wartime photograph album belonging to the family of Flg Off Ken Earnshaw, a crewmate of John Fraser in the Hopgood crew on the Dams Raid. He was one of the 53 personnel who died on the operation.
Shere Fraser Lowe examines the Earnshaw wartime photograph album
The album has been confiscated, and has now been entrusted to Shere Fraser Lowe. She will take it back to Canada and return it to the Earnshaw family.
Earnshaw’s logbook was also sent to Bateman in the late 1990s, and is still missing.
Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of either log book, or who has further information about other missing Dambuster material, should contact Acting Detective Sergeant Henry Childe on 020 8345 4552 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.