THE High Court in Dunfermline in Fife had never seen such scenes.

Armed police patrolled outside while members of the public, lawyers and courts staff were carefully searched inside by security staff.

The four men in the dock were members of a notorious Glasgow crime gang whose leader Robert O'Hara - nicknamed The Birdman - was one of the city's biggest drug dealers.

In 2004 there had been a battle between rival suppliers for control of the lucrative heroin trade in the area which had resulted in the murder of a local man Paul McDowall.

O'Hara was only 27-years-old but was already said to be a rising star in the city's underworld.

His nickname was that had been passed down through generations of his family.

But now it's very mention installed fear in the Possilpark area of Glasgow where he operated.

In 1997 he had been given six years for attempted murder after stabbing a gangland rival and freed in 2001.

Shortly after his release he was the target of a drive-by shooting in Possilpark.

It was said that he had taken to wearing a bullet-proof vest. But a bullet-proof vest can only protect so much of the body.

He staggered into a pub in Saracen Street where an ambulance was called.

O'Hara was then taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary where he was put on the critical list.

However, he survived and continued his ascent up the criminal ladder,

By 2004 he was said to live a life of luxury with a £400,000 city-centre penthouse flat and a £65,000 Audi sports car.

He was also said to run a network of dealers in North Glasgow, making profits of £500,000 a year. 

In July that year Mr McDowall, 25, was attacked in Bardowie Street, Possilpark.

He was said to be a friend of a rival drug dealer to O'Hara and was attacked for no other reason.

As one police officer said at the time: "Paul was an innocent victim, a pawn caught in a power struggle between two more powerful men." 

The victim had been ambushed in broad daylight at around 9pm, while walking home.

He was ferociously attacked with baseball bats and knives by two mystery men.

Their target suffered multiple injuries including three stab wounds that resulted in his death.

In the beginning police struggled to get any information from local people because O'Hara was so feared.

However, Mr McDowall was well liked locally and not seen as being involved in anything serious and slow but surely people began to talk.

Detectives obtained CCTV showing O'Hara and Robert Murray near the crime scene shortly after the murder took place.

But given that they lived in the area that was not enough evidence to charge them.

Armed with search warrants police then raided a series of addresses used by the gang as safe houses.

They found a MAC M11 sub-machine gun, a sawn-off shotgun, a revolver and a cache of ammunition in flats in Niven Street, Maryhill.

The sub-machine gun was the first ever found in Scotland and could rattle out 600 deadly bullets a minute. 

Police also found heroin at the property and at a "safe house" in Cumbernauld. 

Of the first suspects to be arrested was Colin McKay who police believed had carried out the actual stabbing.

However, O'Hara had flown off to Mexico on holiday.

When he and his girlfriend returned in August 2004, they were arrested at Glasgow Airport.

The holiday had cost O'Hare £5840 and had been paid for in cash. More than £2500 was found among his baggage.

O'Hara, who denied the murder, was said to have asked a detective at the police station where he was being questioned: "What if I ordered someone to do it?"

The murder trial was moved to Dunfermline rather than Glasgow because of threats of violence and intimidation to witnesses.

The prosecution said the fatal attack had all the hallmarks of a planned or directed assault with one of the accused phoning O'Hara immediately afterwards.

Former associates testified that the gang was involved in drug dealing, laundering money, guns and violence, with O'Hara receiving much of the profit. 

Many of the prosecution witnesses were given police protection to and from the court.

Despite fears of violence the trial went smoothly, though it was claimed that one witness had been offered a bribe to get her brother to change his statement.

Once the trial began in 2005 a tale of brutality and cruelty emerged.

McKay owed O'Hara £2000 and the murder was his way of clearing the debt.

Despite the length of the trial the jury did not take long to reach their verdict.

O'Hara, Murray, and McKay were found guilty of murdering Mr McDowall.

The fourth accused, then 30, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of conspiracy to murder for his role in looking after the guns.

Extra police were on duty when the four men later appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh in May that year for sentencing.

All four were told that they must spend at least 56 years behind bars.

Judge Lord Dawson told O'Hara, who had ordered the murder, that he was a despicable criminal.

His lordship added: "There is little I can say to reflect the revulsion every decent citizen must feel about you.

"You literally terrorised a whole area of the city of Glasgow and reaped substantial rewards.

"You are a despicable criminal - one of the worst I've had the misfortune to come across." 

Lord Dawson described all four men as having been involved in "an evil criminal conspiracy to murder a young man”.

O'Hara, Murray and McKay were jailed for life and told that they would have to serve at least 20, 12 and 14 years respectively before being considered for parole.

The fourth accused was jailed for 10 years.

Lord Dawson said Murray was the gang leader's right-hand-man, who was "at his shoulder to do his bidding".

He also told McKay: "Clearly you are one of O'Hara's lackeys. Whatever he wants you to do you will do.

"You kept his drugs for him. You kept his guns for him. When he asked you to, you also killed for him, as casually as if he asked you to get him a pint of milk.

"You are no better than a hired assassin."

The judge said the fourth accused had been prepared to get himself involved with a number of illegal firearms 

And, if the opportunity arose, to shoot someone with them.

Murray was also found guilty of attempting to murder another man, James Elder, who was battered and slashed in an earlier attack in Glasgow.

At the end of the proceedings, detective chief inspector Michael Orr, of Strathclyde Police, said witnesses from the local community were crucial in obtaining the guilty verdicts.

He added: "The impact on the local community of taking violent drug dealers off the street is massive.

"What we're finding in recent cases is members of the public are coming forward and speaking about these people."

The police chief added that when ordinary members of the public come forward to help they receive "every support from us". 

In 2009, O'Hara failed a bid to overturn his murder conviction.

His legal team told the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh that Lord Dawson had misdirected the jury and prosecutors had held back crucial information from them.

But the appeal judges rejected the allegations leaving the Crown free to seize the profits of O'Hara's drugs empire.

It was estimated that O'Hara had taken in a small fortune, as much as £2m, from his network of drug dealers in the north of the city. 

He agreed to hand over more than £130,000 in 2010 which was mainly cash seized by the police.

O'Hara had also wanted to lodge an appeal against the 20-year term handed out for the murder.

However, he abandoned that plan after being told that the court could increase the length of time he served behind bars as well as reduce it.

O'Hara remains one of Scotland's most notorious underworld figures despite having been in prison for almost 18 years.

He will soon be eligible for parole.

However as in all such cases, there is no guarantee of an early release.