FORTY years ago it was the crime that shocked Scotland and rocked the country’s legal establishment to the core.

The brutal rape of a woman on the streets of Glasgow later judged too traumatised to give evidence against her three attackers in court.

The decision not to prosecute became a major political scandal and resulted in a historic private prosecution – only the third in 300 years.

The woman who became known as Carol X was returning home from a night out when three thugs dragged her into a disused metal storage container on wasteground in Davaar Street, Barrowfield, on October 31, 1980.

She was repeatedly raped and then slashed with a razor, leaving her needing more than 150 stitches. There was a wealth of evidence against the attackers for the late night Friday attack in the shadow of Celtic Park in the city’s East End.

A fourth youth who was with them that night agreed to give evidence in return for immunity from prosecution.

Carol, then 31, had identified her attackers, and there was substantial forensic evidence.

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The Crown Office however caused public outrage and a media frenzy by dropping the case and the charges. Senior prosecutors had become concerned at Carol’s mental state in the lead up to the trial in May, 1981.

She was then examined by a psychiatrist who feared she could ultimately commit suicide if she faced a court ordeal. There were also said to be misgivings about her reliability as a witness because of her alcoholism and accusations she was a prostitute.

As a result the Crown Office decided not to go ahead with the trial.

But the mother-of-three fought for justice and got it less than a year later through a ground breaking private prosecution.

The application was granted on April, 1982, having been heard by three judges at the High Court in Edinburgh.

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It was one of only two to succeed in Scotland in the 20th century. The other involved a fraud case in 1909.

It led to Joseph Sweeney, then 18, and his two 16-year-old accomplices being put on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh the following month.

Sweeney got 12 years for rape and assault, while the two other accused, one his brother, were convicted of indecent assault.  The man in charge of the original investigation into the attack was 39-year-old Detective Chief Inspector Alex Cowie.

He got a phone call that night at his home about the horror attack from shocked colleagues.

Alex, now 79, said: “Carol had been locked in this vast abandoned 40 foot metal container where the attack took place and she had to dig herself out with her bare hands to escape.

“There was a space at the bottom of the door which had been bashed in and she managed to get through that “She was found by a neighbour in London Road as she tried to stagger home, who called us right away.

“Carol was so badly injured and in such absolute shock she wasn’t able to give us much assistance at first.

“It took us three days just to get a statement from her and that was only with the help of a specially trained policewoman.  “At the time we put out the usual appeals to the public for information.

“However, no-one had seen anything because of the time of night.

“After two weeks we managed to find a youth who had been with the three suspects that night but had not taken part in the attack. He gave us the information we were looking for including their names. They all lived locally in the Barrowfield area.”

At the time the police did not have the benefit of modern investigative techniques such as CCTV or DNA.

Alec added wryly: “All we really had in these days was a notebook and a whistle.

“We had to work with what we had and that was it.”

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However, the metal container where the attack took place was a minefield of vital forensic evidence implicating the three attackers.

On the morning of the trial in May 1981, Alex personally took Carol in his car to the High Court in Glasgow to give evidence. It was to be a day he would never forget.

Alex explained: “I was told by the Advocate Depute who was prosecuting that no further proceedings were being taken as Carol was not an acceptable witness.

“I was then informed that all the accused were being liberated and that was it.

“I was never told why they didn’t think she would make a good witness. It was a case of no proceedings, end of story, cheerio.

“I was told just to take her home.

“Carol just shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t know what to say.

“She later told me she felt like a number, a second class citizen.”

Almost a year later, on the day the private prosecution was granted, Alec personally went to the Barrowfield homes of the three accused to re-arrest them.

Carol’s case however, led to a change in the way rape cases were treated in the Scottish courts.

It helped promote the cause of the fledgling Rape Crisis movement and encouraged more women to report sex attacks.

The case also prompted the families of six victims of the Glasgow bin lorry crash to attempt their own private prosecution against driver Harry Clarke in 2016.

The Crown Office had decided not to charge Clarke over the deaths claiming there was insufficient evidence that he had broken the law when he lost control of his vehicle in Queen Street in December 2014.

However, two years later three judges refused the families’ request for a private prosecution at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Carol, who was the eldest of 10 children, died in 2003, aged only 51.

Five years ago, her sister Mary Conn said: “Carol was generally referred to as a prostitute but that wasn’t the case. The truth is she was homeless and had a terrible dependency on alcohol and as a result she was ruthlessly exploited  by men.

“Carol was a hero to me and all of us for her bravery in going against the State to get justice. She put up with so much and she was so focused on what she was doing.

“She really struck a blow for women when she testified against those boys.”

Glasgow Times:

The successful private prosecution in 1982 was led by the city’s foremost criminal lawyer at the time Ross Harper.

He featured the case in his 2016 biography, Beyond Reasonable Doubt.  Harper wrote: “Every lawyer wants to make legal history. Carol had insisted on me representing her. She was scarred, devastated and traumatised. But the one thing she wanted was that she didn’t want these guys to get away. “ “I was worried she wouldn’t be able to stand up in court. I was anxious right up until the time she gave evidence.

“In the event she not only survived the ordeal of the court, but in spite of the severe emotions and vivid memories, survived well.”

The 1981 decision not to prosecute led to questions being raised in the House of Parliament and the resignation of the then Solicitor General, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn.

Fairbairn, who was also an MP, had breached parliamentary  procedure by telling a journalist why the case had been dropped rather than the House of Commons.

The matter was even discussed in cabinet with the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher later ordering Fairbairn to apologise to MPs for his mistake.

Mr Cowie added: “The attack on Carol was the most brutal I ever investigated in my 30-year police career.

“I had never seen injuries like it and I remember thinking at the time that I never wanted to ever again.”