As we release the second episode of our new true crime podcast, read an extended look at Carol X's fight for justice after being brutally attacked.

More than 41 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 traumatized 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 walking home on October 31, 1980, along London Road, Glasgow towards the Parkhead area of the city where she lived at the time. 

A dangerous journey at the best of times but even more so for a woman on her own late at night. 

Carol had spent the evening drinking in public houses in the Glasgow Cross area and the mile-long journey on foot to Parkhead was something that she had become accustomed to over the years. 

Particularly as she didn't normally have enough money for a taxi. 

Carol managed to get to Bridgeton Cross without difficulty. After that, it was only a half mile or so home.  

She still had to negotiate the notorious Barrowfield housing scheme. 

Today Barrowfield is a modern housing development that has benefited from a lot of inner-city regeneration and investment. 

At that time, it then had the reputation then for poverty, gang violence, and drug dealing, and was an area even the local police thought twice about visiting after dark. 

What happened next would add even further to its notoriety. 

When Carol reached Davaar Street in Barrowfield she was confronted by three thugs who hit her in the head and then knocked her unconscious. 

She was dragged into a disused metal storage container on a nearby wasteground. 

Carol was repeatedly raped and then slashed with a cut throat razor, popular with gang members at the time, leaving her needing more than 150 stitches.  

There was a wealth of evidence against the attackers for the Friday night attack in the shadow of Celtic Park in the city’s East End. 

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

Carol, then 31, had picked out her attackers at a police identity parade, and there was substantial forensic evidence. 

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 fragility 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 said to be misgivings about her reliability as a witness because of her alcoholism and accusations she was a prostitute. 

READ MORE: Extended: Glasgow's crime godfather Arthur Thompson and the murder of his son

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 groundbreaking private prosecution. 

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

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 who was based at nearby London Road Police Office. 

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

The hardened detectives couldn't believe what they had seen and heard. 

Alec, 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." 

Alec then added: "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 and 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.” 

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.” 

At that time the case appeared dead in the water, consigned to the legal dustbin. 

READ MORE: The Glasgow crime story of the murder of Jackie Gallagher

However, a year later the private prosecution was granted, and DCI Cowie personally went to the Barrowfield homes of the three accused to re-arrest them. 

It was a job normally delegated to officers more junior in rank, but he was determined to see it through himself. 

Carol’s case 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 was also seen as a landmark victory for public opinion and the rights of prostitutes. 

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. 

Her case revealed a woman who had a painful and difficult life and spent much of her life on the streets. 

In an interview in 2015, 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. 

“She would only be interested in where her next drink was coming from.  

"And on the street, that would lead to dealing with some very bad people. 

"She was a hero to me and all of us for her bravery in going against the State to get justice." 

Carol grew up the eldest of 10 children in an east end tenement and had to give up her dream of going to art college to get a job to help feed the family. 

Mary added: “People knew her as Carol X, but she was a mother, a daughter, a sister and an aunt.  

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

By the time of the rape, all three of Carol's children were in the care of relatives. She loved them, but she couldn't look after them. 

She got £25,000 compensation after her court victory, but her addiction took every penny. 

And when she died in 2003, she was still on the streets - even though the council had given her a home. 

In the same 2015 interview Mary explained: "After the attack, she could never live in four walls. 

"She needed an escape route, so she felt more secure on the street or in a skip. 

"The attack took away any chance Carol had of being reintegrated into a normal life.  

"She could never trust men again. 

"In 2003, she fell over. And when they found her, she had hypothermia and she died. 

"Her life was full of pain. 

"But she had the capacity to deal with suffering more than anyone could ever imagine. 

"She had real spirit. And she has not been forgotten."  

Mary Conn also hoped that relatives of the Glasgow bin lorry victims would be inspired by Carol's courage to follow her example and try to put Harry Clarke in the dock. 

She added" "The situation reminds me so much of the one Carol found herself in. 

"The men who attacked her were given letters by the top law people to say they were off the hook - being let off. 

"I feel heart sorry for the poor families who lost loved ones. I can't tell them what to do. 

"I'd want them to know that if they feel they are being denied justice now, that feeling won't go away. It will probably get worse and worse." 

The successful private prosecution in 1982, the first in modern day Scotland, was led by Glasgow's foremost criminal lawyer at the time Ross Harper. 

He had co-founded the legendary legal firm of Ross Harper & Murphy some 21 years earlier and, by the early 1980s, it had more than 20 offices across Scotland. 

They were given access to all the original statements and evidence in the rape investigation by a cooperative Crown Office. 

READ MORE: Glasgow Crime Stories: The murder of Frank McPhie

Crucially they were also given all the decisions in the case and the reasons why they had been made. 

By the time Carol X's mental state had been improving with the passing of time, 

The original psychiatric report in 1981 had concluded that: “One must never forget that this woman has been very severely physically and psychologically traumatised and that any further pressure put upon her will only cause more unhappiness, despair and isolation.” 

However further psychiatric assessment in the early part of 1982 had concluded that she might now be fit enough to give evidence without risk of serious injury to her health.  

Ross Harper featured the case in his 2016 biography, Beyond Reasonable Doubt.   

In the book Harper wrote: “Every lawyer wants to make legal history. Carol had insisted on me representing her. But my main concern was if she was fit enough to give evidence. 

 "I met her and she had been through this trauma. 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. 

"She was not daft - she kept going and the Crown Office could not have been more helpful." 

By 2016 Harper, a former President of the Scottish Conservatives, had retired to Australia with his wife and family 

He added: "Carol gave evidence bravely. She got money. I managed to persuade her to sign a mandate entrusting the money. 

"My secretary acted as her mentor and guide. Carol could have got more money, in my view, but she took the first offer. 

"She came to the office a month after and demanded the money. I said, 'Spend it well.'  

"It could have and should have changed her life. I never heard from her again." 

At the time of the book's release Ross Harper said the case had also been important for the credibility of justice system and he supported efforts by the victims of Harry Clarke to have him prosecuted. 

In an interview to promote the book he said: "It's important that justice is transparent. I think scrutiny is absolutely right and is the lifeblood of democracy.  

"Nobody should be above the law, including those who promote it." 

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 Lord Advocate of the day, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Fairbairns' boss was also slated by MP's and the media, though he survived calls for his resignation. 

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

Lord Mackay told ministers that concerns for Carol's mental health was the reason for the case was dropped. 

However, to avoid further controversy in the future, he had decided that all future decisions to drop proceedings against murder or rape suspects should now rest with him. 

Carol X created a political storm at the time with one woman English Labour MP expressing concerns that such decisions would lead to more rape attacks across the country. 

Crucially, the Lord Advocate of the time, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, effectively allowed the private prosecution by deciding not to object to it. 

It's not known if Scotland will ever see another private protection, given it is 41 years since the last one. 

John MacAulay was one of the lawyers employed by Ross Harper to prepare the private prosecution on Carol's behalf. 

Writing on the case in 2017, he said:'The problem is that private prosecutions are completely alien to a modern democracy, and certainly so to Scottish criminal procedure. Their time is up and the Scottish Government should put this ghostly relic finally, firmly and promptly to rest." 

However the last word should rest with DCI Cowie who first brought the three rapists to justice. 

He told the Glasgow Times: “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.”