A leading criminal lawyer believes a man convicted of murder in 1973 is innocent and that Scotland’s justice system must now clear his name.
John Scott QC joins a growing number of prominent campaigners who believe George Beattie’s conviction for the murder of Margaret McLaughlin was a miscarriage of justice.
He told STV News: “I think in Scotland we have the view that we don’t have the same problem with miscarriages of justice as elsewhere, perhaps as in England.
“But I think the reality from my experience is that we’re just not quite so good or open at dealing with them.”
Beattie was aged 19 when he was convicted of murdering 23-year-old Margaret, who was stabbed 19 times in Carluke, Lanarkshire.
Persistent allegations of police misconduct include perverting the course of justice by hiding evidence of Beattie’s innocence and manipulating other evidence to “fit him up”.
The court system has also been criticised for allegedly withholding key evidence from jurors and for failing to properly consider his two unsuccessful appeals.
The later Labour MP Jimmy Hood championed Beattie’s case – which was subject of BBC Rough Justice documentaries in the 1980s – giving a forensic and damning speech in the House of Commons in 1993.
Despite such powerful, prominent and prolonged campaigning, the official record still says Beattie is a murderer. He fears he will go to his grave as a murderer.
STV News has heard from Margaret’s fiancé Bob Alexander, who broke a 47-year silence to say Beattie is innocent.
The catalyst for him speaking out was the publication in July of the book Signs of Murder by criminologist Professor David Wilson. The book also identifies a “more likely suspect”.
Scott accepts that negotiating the labyrinthine appeals process is daunting, but believes it is possible Wilson’s book could finally lead to Beattie’s exoneration.
The first step would be to submit new evidence to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which could then ask for it to be considered by the Appeal Court – although it may refuse.
Scott compared the Beattie case to that of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, which is currently under appeal.
He said: “I think George’s is in that category. It’s one of these cases where there’s a number of features which are parts of classic miscarriages of justice — they’ve all come together but now with a fresh impetus from David Wilson’s book hopefully the whole thing will be looked at properly again.
“I see George Beattie as one of those cases that won’t and even if, God forbid, George were not to be with us any longer, I still think it wouldn’t go away.”
The book has also prompted another prominent intervention — from ex-deputy chief constable Tom Halpin, who sits on the Scottish Police Authority board.
He told STV News: “The book draws issues to our attention that merit further re-examination. It shows the importance in Scotland of respecting justice for everyone.
“It’s important where there is a possibility of a miscarriage of justice that this is fully examined.”
Professor Wilson said: “A mature criminal justice system, which the Scottish system is, has to be able to put its hand up and admit it got it wrong and that’s what happened in this case.”
Police Scotland said any new information would be considered.
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