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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 13:32 GMT
Contempt appeal is given go-ahead
William Beggs
William Beggs was jailed for life for murdering Barry Wallace
Scottish ministers have been granted leave to appeal after they were found to be in contempt of court over the opening of a convicted killer's mail.

They were found to have breached an assurance that mail would not be opened after a complaint from "limbs in the loch" murderer William Beggs.

No penalty was imposed at the Court of Session, as judges said the ruling itself was "of great importance".

Beggs, from Northern Ireland, murdered 18-year-old Barry Wallace, in 1999.

Ministers had announced their intention to seek an appeal after Tuesday's ruling.

Beggs, 41, has lodged an appeal against the life sentence he is serving at Peterhead Prison.

Human Rights

He has also raised civil proceedings over the conditions of his imprisonment.

The contempt ruling arose from a judicial review brought by Beggs in which he complained that "privileged correspondence" from legal advisers was interfered with at Peterhead.

He said that his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached and, during proceedings, ministers gave an undertaking that he could receive privileged correspondence unopened.

Beggs again complained and said a letter from the prison complaints commissioner was opened by a member of staff, in his presence, on 26 November last year.

Judges ruled that the undertaking given to the court about Beggs' correspondence was "not taken seriously enough".

Peterhead Prison
The murderer is being held at Peterhead Prison

At the Court of Session on Tuesday, the Lord President Lord Cullen said: "In our opinion the Scottish ministers were in contempt of court.

"In the circumstances of the present case we do not consider it is appropriate for us to impose any penalty on them. The finding of contempt is of itself a matter of great importance."

The court heard that the letter had not been identified as privileged mail and was not stamped as legal correspondence.

In a brief hearing on Friday, Lord Cullen said ministers would be granted leave to appeal.

He said: "In this case it has been necessary for the court to mark its disapproval of the conduct."

Beggs is three years into his life sentence with a minimum of 20 years before he is considered for release.

He picked up Mr Wallace in his car as the victim walked home from a Christmas works night out in Kilmarnock.

Beggs took him back to his flat in the town and sexually assaulted him. Mr Wallace was murdered and then cut up before his body parts were dumped in Loch Lomond and off the Ayrshire coast.

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