THE story of Glasgow’s Jimmy Boyle, the convicted killer turned successful sculptor and author, is one of the most controversial in Scotland’s penal history.

In November 1967, Boyle was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of another gangland figure, William “Babs” Rooney, who had been slashed from the head to the stomach with a knife.

His subsequent rehabilitation – from violent gangster to cultured artist – aroused controversy at the time and even to this day.

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Glasgow Times:

Born in 1944 in the Gorbals, Boyle had turned to theft and shoplifting while still at primary school.

His father was a well-known robber and local criminal who died in his 30s.

His mother worked as a cleaner to support Jimmy and his three brothers.

However, Jimmy was the one out of the four siblings who decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.

He joined the Gorbals’ notorious Cumbie gang, who were famous for their violence and terror.

At the age of 13 he was breaking into vending machines and served his first custodial sentence.

At 16, the young hardman, now nicknamed “Babyface” Boyle, was involved in serious crime and had stolen his first safe.

Two years later Boyle ran amok with a knife in the street, slashing innocent passers-by, thus cementing his image as a feared figure not to be crossed at any price.

By 20 he was working as an enforcer for moneylenders and loan sharks collecting debts on their behalf. Usually, the threat of violence from Boyle was enough to make people pay up.

By the age of 21 he had twice stood trial for murder – on the first occasion he was found not guilty and on the second charges were dropped.

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The houses of witnesses involved in both cases had been firebombed to deter them from giving evidence against him.

In between times Boyle was jailed for two years for a bottle attack in which his victim lost an eye.

After being cleared of the second murder charge, he was jailed for an additional three months for jostling and pushing the man who had died.

By now Boyle had clearly graduated into a ruthless criminal, with connections all the way to the notorious Kray twins in London.

At the age of 23 he had earned the dubious title of Scotland’s most dangerous man and public enemy number one.

Following Rooney’s murder he fled to London where he was arrested in a pub in the East End of London by armed undercover officers and taken back to Glasgow to stand trial.

He was the first high-profile figure to be convicted of murder following the abolition of the death penalty two years earlier.

It was third time lucky for the City of Glasgow Police, but luck had deserted Boyle’s victim.

Rooney had made the mistake of borrowing money and not paying it back.

After being convicted at the High Court, Boyle was told he would have to serve a minimum of 15 years before he could be considered for parole.

There were few if any that believed his protestations of innocence, that he hadn’t killed Rooney.

A number of witnesses had to be given police protection after the trial.

Three men including lawyer James Latta were also convicted of trying to intimidate witnesses and given lengthy prison sentences.

Police officer Bryan McLaughlin was given the job of keeping an eye on Boyle in his cell at the then Central Police Station in Turnbull Street, Glasgow, before he was taken to court the next day. In his 2012 biography Crimestopper, the now retired Detective Inspector said: “Boyle’s behaviour was extraordinary. He didn’t sleep. Instead, he paced the cell throughout the night like a caged animal.

“All the while he kept his eyes firmly on me.

“I could see how he was capable of such violence and rage as he prowled like a big cat eager to pounce.”

Boyle’s time in jail failed to curb his propensity for violence.

An additional four years was added to his sentence after he assaulted two prison officers at Peterhead.

It was then that he got a taste for reading and literature when a warden would give him a book once a week while in solitary.

Ironically the first one he read was said Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

In May 1973, he was a ringleader in the Porterfield prison riots and sentenced to a further six years for the attempted murder of six prison officers.

By this time Boyle was at constant loggerheads with the prison system with tit-for-tat attacks on prison officers and dirty protests.

He was subject to prolonged solitary confinement in punishment cells and special cages.

Something had to change, on both sides of the divide.

Glasgow Times:

Boyle was one of the first transferred to Barlinnie’s experimental and controversial Special Unit where prisoners were encouraged to develop artistic talents and begin their rehabilitation in a more relaxed regime.

Boyle discovered a talent for sculpture and designed the largest concrete sculpture in Europe called “Gulliver” for the Craigmillar Festival Society in 1976. In 1977 he published his autobiography, A Sense of Freedom, while behind bars.

It became a bestseller and told of his life of crime, murder conviction, and eventual rehabilitation in the Special Unit.

In 1980 while still in prison, he married public school educated psychiatrist Sarah Trevelyan who had visited him in the Special Unit after reading his book.

Her father John Trevelyan was secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, a pillar of the British establishment.

On his release in 1982 on licence Boyle and Sarah set up home in Edinburgh with their two children.

A year later they formed the Gateway Project charity offering art therapy workshops to recovering drug addicts and former convicts with funding from Sir Sean Connery, Sir Billy Connolly and even John Paul Getty.

After his release he cemented his reputation as an author with the release of another two books, the Pain of Confinement: Prison Diaries, in 1984, and a novel, Hero of the Underworld, in 1999.

The latter was adapted for a French film and won the best documentary prize at the Montreal Awards in 2002. He blossomed as an artist and author.  However, during his period of rehabilitation, the spectre of his old life was never far away.

In 1994, his first son James Boyle Jnr was stabbed to death by Gary Moore, a well-known Glasgow criminal who had been previously arrested for the murders of six members of the Doyle family in 1984 and the murder of a sex-worker in 1991.

Moore, now dead, was convicted of culpable homicide and sentence to eight years for killing young James.  James and his younger sister Patricia were the product of Boyle’s relationship with Margaret Kinnear, who had been his common law wife back in the 1960s.  Both children were born while Boyle was behind bars, and he had little contact with them until he moved to the Special Unit.

Boyle now divides his time between France and Morocco with his second wife, Kate Fenwick, a British actress, having divorced first wife Sarah after more than 20 years of marriage.

In the past critics of Boyle have questioned whether he had genuinely reformed or just used the system to his benefit.

In the pages of Crimestopper McLaughlin had little doubt that he was a wild man tamed.

He described a meeting with Boyle after he had been escorted to a hospital in Glasgow for an operation while still in Barlinnie.

By then the police officers were more concerned about the convicted killer being attacked because of his notoriety, rather than their own safety or the fear that he might try to escape.

The former detective added: “Boyle was quite different from the prowling animal I’d watched through the night over a dozen years before.

“The silent, brooding criminal had become an erudite and talkative individual who had become incredibly charismatic.

“I was astonished how his attitude to life had been turned around.”

Boyle has rarely talked about his colourful and controversial life but in one rare interview in 1999 he said: “I was a dunce at school and a failure in life, so I took quickly to a life of crime.

“I realised there were no opportunities for me growing up, it was the old working-class thing about either escaping through sport or through crime, and I was never much good at sport.”