‘Limbs in the loch’ murderer’s human rights breached after mail opened by prison service

Lady Stacey

A prisoner whose confidential correspondence was opened by prison authorities had his human rights breached, a judge in the Court of Session has ruled.

“Limbs in the Loch” murderer William Beggs raised a petition for judicial review against the Scottish Ministers, complaining that the Scottish Prison Service opened mail addressed to him in prison.

Lady Stacey held that the ruled the SPS 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 court heard that the complaint by the petitioner was that there was no efficient system of delivery of mail, leading to delay; and that there was no efficient system of sorting privileged mail from other mail.

It was conceded that changes had been made since the petition was initiated, but the judge found that the complaint about the privileged mail was made out, though the complaint about delay was not.

Lady Stacey held that the SPS failed to follow their own guidelines when 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.

The judge concluded that the petitioner was a “victim” within the meaning of section 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

In a written opinion, Lady Stacey said: “In the present case, I find that the petitioner’s rights under article 8 have been breached although I make no finding that anything was done deliberately or maliciously. I make that finding because the respondents were well aware of the petitioner’s concern about his mail over a period of about 12 years.

“While the respondents drafted and promulgated policies to conform to the rules and the direction, it seems to me that in respect of the opening of privileged mail the respondents failed in implementation.

“The respondents took too long to instruct the mail handling officers on the address of the UK Information Commissioner and also failed to instruct the persons handing out the mail on the appearance of mail from a double envelope, or failed to stamp the envelope when it was taken out of the outer envelope.

“It is not for a court to decide on the detail of the way in which a prison is run. That is a matter for SPS and I should and do show due deference to its ability and experience which I do not share.

“Nevertheless I am persuaded that the failures in implementation are such as to show that the system put in place by SPS during the time relevant to the complaints relating to privileged correspondence was insufficient in its actual working to enable the petitioner’s right to respect for his correspondence to be upheld.

“I therefore find that the petitioner’s rights under article 8 have been breached; that he is a victim; and I will hear counsel on whether a declarator or any other remedy is necessary at a date to be fixed.”

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