‘Limbs in the Loch’ murderer fails in damages claim over opening of letters

The man found guilty of the “limbs in the loch” murder has had a claim for damages refused after his confidential correspondence was opened by prison officers.

William Beggs was seeking £5,000 compensation after a judge had ruled that his human rights were breached in jail when “privileged” mail addressed to him was opened.

Lady Stacey held that the Scottish Prison Service failed to respect the killer’s rights under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that people have the “right to respect” for their “private and family life” and their “home and correspondence.”

The judge found that the SPS failed to follow their own guidelines when between January 2013 and January 2015 they opened letters from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office addressed to Beggs, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001 after murdering 18-year-old Barry Wallace and dismembering his body in December 1999 at a flat in Kilmarnock, and discarding the limbs and torso of his victim in Loch Lomond and disposing of his head by throwing it into the sea off the Ayrshire coast.

Lady Stacey had now issued a further opinion having heard counsel on the “appropriate remedy” in light of that finding.

Counsel for the petitioner argued that confidential correspondence was an “important matter” and the seriousness of the situation should be marked by the court pronouncing a decree of declarator.

In arguing that damages should also be awarded, it was submitted that the courts should be guided by any clear and consistent practice of the European Court of Human Rights and that the quantum of awards under section 8 should be broadly reflective of the level of awards made in comparable cases brought by applicants from the UK.

For the respondent, counsel argued that neither should declarator be pronounced nor damages awarded, as the findings made in the court’s first judgment were “just satisfaction”.

The judge observed that while that Beggs was “annoyed” over the issue of his letters, he had not suffered distress of the severity discussed in the 2005 House of Lords case of R (Greenfield) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, which concerned a breach of article 6 of the European Convention and considered “judicial remedies” under section 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

In a written opinion, Lady Stacey said: “I find that just satisfaction is constituted by my finding of breaches of the petitioner’s article 8 rights.

“I considered carefully whether the fact that the petitioner raised three actions, showing that the system was not reformed after the first or second action, necessitated an award of damages. I have decided that it did not.

“The breaches did not involve any reading of confidential mail. Apologies were made following complaints made by the petitioner and investigated by the respondent.

“The system for recognition of such mail was altered as a result of the petitioner’s complaints and actions.

“The petitioner was annoyed. I do not find that he suffered distress of the severity discussed in the case of Greenfield.”

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