Historian jailed for stealing log book from widow of Dambusters squadron airman

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A military historian has been jailed for stealing a log book worth £10,000 from the widow of an RAF airman who was in the Dambusters squadron.

Alexander Bateman, 48, of Headstone Lane, Harrow, north-west London, was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday at Wood Green Crown Court, north London.

Bateman, who was found guilty of theft following a five-day trial in January, lied repeatedly after he was asked to return the loaned memento.

The treasured log book, which belonged to the late Sergeant John Fraser, has never been found and Bateman has refused to tell police what happened to it.

Sergeant Fraser's daughter, Shere Lowe, 60, who flew over from Washington in the United States for the hearing, blasted Bateman for his "cruel charade" as she spoke in court.

Sentencing, Judge John Dodd QC said: "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, misleading the family when they sought its return, which added to their sense of loss and betrayal."

He said it "remains a mystery" what he had done with the log book, which he described as an "important historical artefact".

Doris Fraser, 92, the widow of Sgt Fraser, sent the log book to the historian after he contacted her in 1996 as part of his research into the airmen involved in the Dambusters RAF squadron.

Several years later he contacted Ms Lowe, who was unaware her father's log book had been previously loaned to Bateman.

She asked for it to be returned in January 2003, having never seen it herself, but when an envelope arrived from Bateman it had been carefully cut open at the bottom.

Her mother was "physically sick" when she realised the log book was missing, Ms Lowe said.

He initially claimed the log book must have been lost, but then said that he had recovered it from the Post Office.

Bateman then told the family he had been gifted the log book and later produced a Christmas card he claimed was from the victim which appeared to confirm his story of ownership.

In June 2003, after he was told a report on the missing log book would appear in the national press, he reported a burglary at his address and alleged intruders had stolen it.

Ms Lowe, taking to the dock, said she felt "sadness" but "tremendous relief" that justice had been served.

She said: "All I have wanted out of this from day one is just to see my father's history, to be able to hold it in my hands and to be able to see it for the first time, and to share it with my children and my family.

"I had every reason at the start to believe that this man was a historian and wanted to uphold the legacy of the Dambusters.

"The action that followed - the deception and the cruel charade, the lies, it's had its weight on our family."