In the latest podcast episode, we turn to law rather than crime, as we place a spotlight on lawyer Joe Beltrami. To this day, he is known as one of Scotland’s foremost criminal defence lawyers, having represented hundreds of people charged with criminal offences.  

It was a cry that was heard day and night in police cells across Glasgow for more than 50 years – “Get me Beltrami”. 

Between 1956 and 2008, the legal legend defended some of the city’s most notorious criminals and hardmen. 

However, his clients also included more respectable members of society, including ministers and teachers, who had found themselves on the wrong side of the law and were facing ruin and disgrace. 

In a glittering career, Beltrami represented more than 500 clients charged with murder. 

He also successfully defended a dozen men facing the death penalty, before its abolition in 1965. 

That extraordinary feat led to one famous newspaper headline of the day saying: “Beltrami 12-0 Hangman”. 

The best known of the 12 was Walter Scott Ellis, accused of shooting taxi driver John Walkinshaw in Castlemilk, in 1961.  Prosecutors called 125 witnesses and Beltrami interviewed each one at least twice. 

His mammoth effort paid off and Ellis, 26, escaped the hangman’s rope after the jury at the High Court in Glasgow cleared him of murder. 

Joe Beltrami’s most notorious client was the city’s crime godfather Arthur Thompson, who he represented for more than 40 years until the gangster’s death in 1993. 

His biggest success was clearing Thompson of the murders of two gangland rivals on 1966 in the north of the city. 

His client in turn was never slow to show his gratitude. 

He once treated Joe and wife Delia to VIP treatment at the Muhammad Ali versus Joe Bugner fight in Las Vegas in 1973. 

But Rutherglen-born Beltrami made a point of never getting close to any of his clients, no matter how rich or powerful they were. 

Beltrami once said of Thompson: “I wouldn’t say we were friends. I always insisted on keeping a professional distance.” 

His favourite case was defending a Lanarkshire teacher convicted of smacking his eight-year-old daughter in 2000 when she refused to go into a dentist’s surgery. 

He was able to return to teaching after Joe led an appeal against a General Teaching Council decision to strike him off. 

Two of his cases led to the only Royal Pardons in Scotland in the 20th century. 

The most famous involved safecracker Paddy Meehan, jailed for life in 1969 for the murder of Rachel Ross, 72, during a robbery at her Ayr home. Her husband Abraham was left in hospital. 

William “Tank” McGuiness, another of Beltrami’s clients, admitted he was the real killer. 

Bound by client confidentiality, Beltrami could do nothing until McGuiness died. 

After seven years in jail, Meehan was freed with a pardon and £60,000 compensation – worth £250,000 now. 

Another notable client was Gorbals hardman Jimmy Boyle, jailed for life for murder in 1967, who went on to become a successful sculptor and author. 

Beltrami’s Italian-speaking Swiss immigrant father ran a fish and chip shop in Glasgow Cross and his parents saved up enough money to send him to the private catholic school St Aloysius’ college in Garnethill. 

He qualified as a solicitor in 1956, but at the time many firms would not employ a Catholic. 

Instead, he set up his own his own, Beltrami & Company, in 1958, on Buchanan Street. 

One of his favourite clients was Partick businessman Colin “Coalie” Beattie, said to be the hardest man in Glasgow. 

Beattie, who died in 2015 at the age of 85, was involved in construction, demolition and fruit shops. 

He was once charged with killing a man with a single punch in a packed dance hall in the West End of Glasgow – but he was cleared due to a lack of witnesses. 

When the police arrested him, they regularly took at least eight men – all armed with wooden truncheons which were often broken while trying to subdue him. 

Beltrami once said of his client: “Colin Beattie, to my knowledge, has never been involved in dishonesty or violence with weapons of any type. 

“With his height and build, the use of a weapon would not be necessary.” 

Another Beltrami favourite was safecracker Johnny Ramensky, who was released from jail during the Second World War to open safes filled with German secrets. 

Known as “Gentle Johnny” because he never used violence, he frequently escaped from prison, and Beltrami represented him until his death in 1972. 

His toughest case was that of former policeman Howard Wilson, who shot dead two former colleagues - Detective Constable Angus MacKenzie, below, and Constable Edward Barnett – in December 1969. 

Glasgow Times:

They had caught Wilson in his flat in Allison Street, Govanhill, with the proceeds of an armed bank robbery carried out earlier that day in Williamwood. 

A few hours after the murders Wilson, married with a young family, was sitting in his police cell in nearby Craigie Street Police Office confessing both murders to a bewildered Beltrami.  

He appeared at the High Court in Glasgow two months later and was given life in prison. Wilson was released in 2002 after 33 years behind bars. 

In his 1988 memoir The Defender, Beltrami recalled: "As I listened to him. I kept asking myself what could have possessed him. 

"He looked more like a businessman that a criminal." 

The only explanation that the legal eagle could offer was that Wilson had simply panicked after being caught red-handed by his former colleagues. 

Glasgow Times:

A keen Celtic fan, Beltrami was never far from the major stories of the day, news or sport. 

In 1967, he could be found celebrating in the Lisbon hotel room of manager Jock Stein, shortly after the club had just won the  European Cup. 

He also chaired the testimonial committees for Celtic legends Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and Danny McGrain. 

Despite his allegiances, Beltrami also once defended Scotland’s most senior Orangeman, the Reverend Alan Hasson. 

In 1971 Hasson stood trial at the High Court in Glasgow charged with defrauding the organisation out of £10,300 (worth £130,000 now). 

A Church of Scotland minister in Bonhill, Dunbartonshire, Hasson was also Grand Master of the Grand Orange Order of Scotland. 

During his trial he elected to defend himself and Beltrami watched on unaware of the part he was about to play. 

As the case concluded Beltrami got a letter from Hasson asking him he could come to Barlinnie prison and speak with him. He told Beltrami that he didn't possess enough legal knowledge to do himself justice in the summing up. 

Beltrami helped him polish his speech and later as the trial came to an end, he watched to see how he fared. 

Hasson put the blame for the theft on the Orange Order's treasurer, who during his own evidence had denied any involvement. 

In The Defender, Beltrami added: "Most of them were more than impressed in the way that he tackled his speech. 

"He had little recourse to notes and his summing up was done dramatically. 

"Hasson seemed to have most of the qualities that would have made him, had he wished, a successful actor." 

At the very end of the proceedings the trial judge Lord Johnston told the jury that they had two clear choices. 

If they believed Hasson, they had to acquit him and if they believed the treasurer they had to convict. 

Under Scots law, the jury has the option of a third verdict not proven, which was explained to them by the judge. 

However, Lord Johnston labelled such a decision by the jurors as "inappropriate" and "unsatisfactory." 

The move, which could be seen as trying to influence the jury’s verdict, stunned Beltrami as it formed a strong ground for an appeal if Hasson was convicted. 

The jury came back within the hour with a guilty verdict – unimpressed by Hasson’s oratory powers.  

Beltrami went to see him the next day and said he would be lodging an appeal having been involved in a similar case in 1964. 

A capable homicide conviction had been overturned after the judge told the jury that he didn't like not proven verdicts. That case would boost their chances of winning an appeal which was set to take place three weeks later at the High Court in Edinburgh. 

When the time came, all three judges led by Lord Wheatley quashed the conviction after only 30 minutes and Hasson was a free man after serving only 21 days of his sentence. 

Later reflecting on his time as the Orangeman's legal adviser Beltrami, said: "In his wildest dreams I would wager that at no time he envisaged a situation whereby a Roman Catholic - myself in fact - would hand him a lifeline and where he would seize it gladly." 

One of Beltrami's most controversial cases involved a client charged with the murder of a teenage girl. 

Thirteen-year-old Tracy Main had been found slumped against the settee of the lounge of her tower block home in Norfolk Court in the Gorbals, with seven stab wounds to her chest. 

The attack had happened on February 5, 1979, while her parents were at work and she was off school. 

Though her clothing had been removed there was no evidence of a sexual assault. 

Suspicion fell on Thomas Docherty, a 43-year-old unemployed man with the mental age of an eight-year-old. 

He lived on the same second-floor landing with his common law wife, a 73-year-old grandmother. 

When interviewed he freely admitted knowing Tracy and could even describe how she had been found. 

Docherty revealed during one interview that Tracy had been stabbed seven times.  

This was explosive information, what police call specialist knowledge. 

The man leading the investigation Detective Chief Inspector Les Brown decided there was now enough evidence to charge Docherty with Tracey's murder. 

A few hours later Beltrami was having his first consultation with Docherty in Craigie Street Police Office. 

Beltrami and Brown knew each other and were on good terms.  

But they were on opposite sides of the divide now and what Beltrami discovered was to make that divide more of a chasm. 

After further meetings with his client Beltrami became convinced of his innocence, particularly as there was no forensic evidence linking him to the murder. 

But how could he explain Docherty's claim that he knew that Tracey had been stabbed seven times? 

His client told him that he had heard the information on a television bulletin. 

Beltrami asked the BBC and STV if they would be willing to release copies of their coverage. 

He discovered that one STV presenter had said the victim had been stabbed "several" times. 

Could Docherty, with his low intelligence, have misheard the report and thought he had said seven. 

Beltrami was certain that a jury would agree and clear his client. 

However, he knew there was a lot of work still to be done before they could reach that point. 

The public were horrified at the murder of an innocent young girl in her home. 

There had been pressure on the police to get an arrest and the jury might feel similarly pressured to deliver a guilty verdict. 

Later Beltrami wrote: "From the outset it was clear to me that Docherty did not realise he had been charged with murder 

"It was equally clear that, without difficulty, one could persuade him to say anything." 

When leaving the police station after their first consultation he said to Brown: "Les, you must have the wrong man. 

"Thomas knows nothing about it." 

To which DCI Brown is said to have replied: "No, we have the evidence." 

During visits to Barlinnie Prison Beltrami realised that Docherty had no idea why he was there or that he had been charged with murder. 

However, his client had been examined by two psychiatrists and deemed fit to stand trial. 

That created another dilemma for the lawyer. 

He did not agree with the diagnosis but knew that if client didn't stand trial there was a danger, he would be sent to the State Hospital at Carstairs anyway and might never be released. 

However, Beltrami was confident of his client's innocence. 

That confidence grew when he and Docherty's Q.C  Hugh Morton made an astonishing discovery on the eve of the trial at the High Court in Glasgow. 

While reading DCI Brown's statement they discovered that he had failed to warn Docherty over his right to remain silent before charging him with murder. 

Neither Beltrami nor Morton could believe what they were reading. 

If true it meant that any trial would have to be stopped, once that revelation was made known to the jury, and the accused allowed to walk free. 

Glasgow Times:

They checked Browns notebook to see how he had written down the caution and there was no mention of his right to remain silent. 

It proved that anything said by Docherty after his arrest was inadmissible and could not be allowed in evidence. 

That included the reference to the seven stab wounds, the cornerstone of the prosecution case. 

But this revelation created yet another dilemma for Docherty's defence team. 

If he walked free on technicality, then people might not believe in his innocence. 

Surely it was better to not mention the caution error and let all the facts come out that would clear his name. 

However, Morton disagreed and said he must mention it when cross-examining DCI Brown in the witness box. 

When the police chief gave evidence, he said he had cautioned Docherty in front of his boss Detective Supt Ian Smith. 

At this point Morton got to his feet and pointed out that the caution was wrong. 

The court was cleared and during a two-hour hearing before Lord Cowie Brown admitted that he hadn't written down the caution correctly but had verbally advised the accused of his right to remain silent. 

However, Detective Supt Smith admitted he had written down what Brown said and there was no mention of the right to remain silent. 

The jury were called back in and the issue over the caution was explained to them, 

The murder charge against Docherty was withdrawn by the prosecution and the jury instructed to find him not guilty. 

Beltrami asked for his client to be smuggled out the court and taken to a Glasgow police station for his own protection.  

Docherty was kept there for two days before being admitted to Carstairs as a voluntary patient for a month 

A place was found for Docherty in a social work hostel in a secret location in England where he remained, never returning to Glasgow. 

One of Beltrami's most famous cases involved wrestler Andy Robins and his pet grizzly Hercules. 

The bear, who appeared in the James Bond film Octopussy, was raised by Robins, but went missing in 1980 while shooting a Kleenex ad on the Hebridean island of Benbecula. 

The bear was found after 24 days but Robin was prosecuted for failing to control a wild animal. 

Beltrami jokingly insisted on an identity parade for Hercules with other bears. 

The move was not necessary as he proved that Hercules was a working bear, not a wild animal, and the case was dropped. 

In 2009, Beltrami, living in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, was given the rare accolade of honorary life membership of the Law Society of Scotland. 

The society’s then president Ian Smart said: “Joe knows what it means to shape the law and change its future.” 

Though Beltrami retired in the mid-1990s, he continued to work as a full-time consultant until 2008. 

His three sons have also gone on to have successful legal careers, His eldest Ed became Wales’s chief prosecutor, middle son Adrian is a QC in London. Joe’s youngest is a successful lawyer in Glasgow. 

Following his death in 2015, more than 200 people – including Celtic legend Billy McNeill – attended the funeral at St Aloysius’ Church in Garnethill. 

At the time, leading criminal QC Thomas Ross said: “Joseph Beltrami laid the path for all of us to follow.” 

The firm Beltrami set up 62 years ago is now run by senior partner Gary McAteer, who he hired as a 20-year-old trainee lawyer in 1983. 

In a recent interview, Gary added: “Joe hit the headlines at the very beginning of his career with three murder cases in a row where the accused were acquitted. He became a star in the legal profession after that. 

“Joe had a certain instinct for people and cases. He had cleverness and insight into how things worked. 

“He was a big bold character with a good sense of humour. 

“There will never be another lawyer like him.”