A case that has been described as Scotland’s longest-running miscarriage of justice has been raised in Holyrood, as supporters of the convicted man, George Beattie, urged prosecutors to “right this egregious wrong”.
Newly elected Scottish Conservative MSP Russell Findlay used his maiden parliamentary speech on Thursday afternoon to question the conviction of Beattie, who was found guilty of murdering 23-year-old typist Margaret McLaughlin in the South Lanarkshire town of Carluke in 1973.
Beattie has always maintained his innocence, but three appeals were unsuccessful and he served 13 years for murder before his release in 1986.
Describing the case as one that “shames Scotland”, Findlay told fellow MSPs how – despite media investigations that uncovered serious concerns about the conviction, and a significant book published last year that identified a more likely suspect in the killing – Beattie had told him that he expected to go to his grave as a wrongly convicted murderer.
McLaughlin was stabbed to death on 6 Julie 1973 as she took a shortcut from her home through an area known locally as Colonel’s Glen to the nearby railway station. She intended to catch the train to Glasgow, where she was to meet her fiance’s sister to discuss wedding arrangements.
According to criminologist David Wilson, who grew up in Carluke and wrote the book Signs of Murder, which revived interest in the case after its publication last year, Beattie was known locally as a fantasist and made a “pseudo-confession” in which he stated that men wearing top hats with mirrors on them had forced him to watch as they repeatedly stabbed the victim. More information has come to light as a result of the book’s release, including McLaughlin’s fiance, Bob Alexander, declaring his belief in Beattie’s innocence.
Wilson told the Guardian: “George Beattie and his family have had the stain of murder attached to their name for years, and to have his innocence raised in the Scottish parliament underlines that the justice system needs to right this egregious wrong.
“George’s supporters may have a voice now, and there is acknowledgement from the local community of Carluke that people got it wrong in 1973, but there is deafening silence from the Crown Office. George is now in his seventies and keeps poor health, and they need to act now.”
Findlay, a former investigative journalist, was attacked on his doorstep in Glasgow in 2015 and had sulphuric acid thrown in his face in front of his young daughter, in an apparent reprisal for his reporting on organised crime gangs in the city.
He used his first speech at Holyrood to highlight a number of other cases, such as the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh, which is currently the subject of a public inquiry, and went on to argue that “in Scotland, legal regulation is not fit for purpose”.
A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said it would “carefully consider any new and credible evidence that comes to light”.