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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 16:26 GMT
Judge details Beggs 'internet ruling'
William Beggs
Beggs is appealing his life sentence for murder
A judge has explained why he did not allow material on internet sites to be used to bring the "limbs in the loch" murder trial to a halt.

Lord Osborne, after the first day of evidence against William Beggs, was asked to rule whether there could be a contempt of court on the net.

Donald Findlay QC, who represented the 38-year-old, complained about sites branding Beggs "The Gay Ripper" and revealing his previous convictions.

He alleged that modern technology had created a new hazard to fair trials.

The system of trial by jury depends upon confidence being placed in juries to follow directions which they are given

Lord Osborne
Mr Findlay said that if a newspaper had carried such reports during a trial it would have been a breach of the Contempt of Court Act.

But Lord Osborne threw out those claims and allowed the trial to continue - leading to Beggs' conviction for murdering and dismembering Kilmarnock supermarket worker Barry Wallace.

The judge has now issued a report explaining his decision, which was kept from the jury and could not be reported before the verdict.

During legal debate at the High Court in Edinburgh, advocate depute Alan Taylor QC, prosecuting, said he was unaware whether any court in the UK had considered the question of contempt of court in relation to the internet.

He had not been able to find a note of any case bearing directly on that issue.

Mr Findlay went to court on 19 September, the second day of the trial, with a bundle of material downloaded from the web.

William Beggs
Beggs' earlier murder conviction was quashed
It included articles posted on a number of British newspapers' sites and an American publication called Gay Today.

Some of it referred to Beggs' previous conviction for murder, which had been quashed on appeal.

There were also comparisons between Beggs and serial killer Fred West.

Mr Findlay said the articles were "of a highly sensational and irrelevant nature" which would be bound to have an impact if read by a juror.

But Mr Taylor said the offending material dated back to when Beggs was still at large and legal proceedings had not begun.

He claimed that what was on the web was no different from back copies of newspapers which could be found in a public library.

He added that readers would require to look quite hard to find the material.

Mr Taylor argued that "publication", which could have led to penalties for contempt, referred to the first moment material was put on the web.

Newspapers and magazines

Mr Findlay said material was being published as long as it remained there.

Lord Osborne said, in his written report, that he preferred the first view.

The judge went on to say rules about contempt of court had clearly been written with newspapers, magazines and books in mind, but that some could apply to the internet.

One was the likelihood of a juror seeing anything which might prejudice a fair trial.

"I recognise immediately that the use of computers by members of the public to access web-sites is relatively commonplace, although not as commonplace as reading newspapers, magazines, etc."

Barry Wallace
Barry Wallace died after a Christmas night out
Lord Osborne also said he had no reason to suppose the jury would ignore his order, at the beginning of the trial, to reach a verdict based only on the evidence they heard in court.

"The system of trial by jury depends upon confidence being placed in juries to follow directions which they are given," he said.

The discovery of Mr Wallace's dismembered body, dumped in Loch Lomond in December 1999, was widely reported at the time.

Months before the trial got under way, Beggs' defence team failed to get a court ruling to free him.

They alleged that because of all the anti-Beggs publicity, a trial would breach his right to a fair hearing.

Since beginning his life sentence, with an order he should serve at least 20 years before being considered for release, Beggs has lodged an appeal against his conviction.

See also:

12 Oct 01 | Scotland
Life for limbs-in-loch murderer
12 Oct 01 | Scotland
Slashing victim 'expected to die'
12 Oct 01 | Scotland
Family condemn "devil" killer
12 Oct 01 | Scotland
Beggs' catalogue of violent crime
12 Oct 01 | Scotland
Former student tells of Beggs terror
12 Oct 01 | Scotland
Beggs trial: Timeline
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