In this episode of Glasgow Crime Stories: How one former gangster went from public enemy number one to an accomplished author and sculptor.


The story of Glasgow's Jimmy Boyle - convicted killer turned successful sculptor and author - is one of the most controversial in the city's criminal history.

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

Though still in his early twenties, it was the third time he had stood trial for murder, but the first time he had been convicted.

Not for nothing was he considered public enemy number one.

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

So, who was Jimmy Boyle?

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

His dad was a well-known robber and local criminal who died in his thirties. 

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

However, Jimmy was the only 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.

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

At 16, the young hardman was involved in serious crimes including the theft of safes.

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 a tallyman or enforcer for moneylenders - collecting unpaid debts on their behalf. 

At that time customers, many of them poor, were being charged interest rates of up to 1000 per cent.

The threat of violence from Boyle, however, was enough to make people pay up - no matter how much they owed.

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.

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

He had been dubbed "Babyface" Boyle by the press and was now feared as much south of the border as north.

At the age of 23, he had also earned the dubious title of Scotland's most dangerous man.

In between spells in prison Boyle had also fathered two children - a boy James and a daughter Patricia.

In an interview in 1983 former Strathclyde Police chief constable Sir David McNee recalled the violence used by criminals like Boyle on behalf of the city's ruthless moneylenders and loan sharks.

He said: "In one case, two tallymen walking into a debtor's house in broad daylight, held him down on a table and proceeded with a razor and a ruler to slash a matching pattern of scars on his cheeks. 

"We couldn't take action because the victim didn't complain. He just vanished." 

One debtor was said to have been discovered by his horrified wife, spread-eagled on the floor of their home with nails driven through his hands and feet. The victim pressed no charges. 

Sir David added: "It was an odious business. But it was the murder of one small-time Glasgow criminal which brought it all to light." 

That small-time criminal was Babs Rooney who had made the mistake of borrowing money and not paying it back. 

On the day of the murder in early July 1967 Jimmy Boyle had been drinking in a pub in Govan when he was asked to go collect a debt owed to him by Rooney - a well-known face in Glasgow's crime scene.

Rooney had missed two payments on a debt of £7 - worth £150 today - and his moneylender was not happy. 

Boyle went to Rooney’s home in nearby Cornwall Street, Kinning Park and the door was opened by his girlfriend, Sadie Cairney. 

Rooney came to the door and was bare-chested as he had been getting ready for bed.

Boyle said he had come for the money he owed but Rooney replied, “Jimmy, I need more time”.

At this point, Boyle was alleged to have pulled out a knife and murdered Rooney.

The Gorbals hardman fled to London where he was put under the protection of the Krays.

One day in September, he was having a pint in the British Lion pub on Hackney Road in the east end of the city when a lorry drew up outside and a large number of men in overalls got out.

They turned out to be plainclothes policemen and Boyle was overpowered and taken back to Scotland for trial. 

Police officer Bryan McLaughlin was given the job of keeping an eye on Boyle in his cell at the Central Police Station in Turnbull Street 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 was found guilty of Rooney's murder at the High Court in Glasgow in November 1967, the jury returning its verdict in 45 minutes. 

A second man who had stood trial with Boyle - William Wilson - was cleared of murdering Rooney.

It was third time lucky for the City of Glasgow Police.

Before sentencing, trial judge Lord Cameron's described Boyle as "a dangerous menace to society" 

He was told he would have to serve a minimum of 15 years of a life sentence before he could be considered for parole.

Down in the High Court cells the detectives involved in the Rooney murder investigation taunted Boyle, telling him he was finished.

Understandably they were over the moon, having jailed what they saw as a dangerous criminal.

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Boyle was also one of the first high-profile figures to be convicted of murder following the abolition of the death penalty in 1965.

He protested his innocence but there were few that believed that he hadn't had a hand in Rooney's murder.

A number of those who had given evidence against Boyle 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.

Boyle's time in prison failed to curb his propensity for violence as he became a major challenge to the system. 

Just two months after being jailed, he was accused of serious assault on the assistant governor of Barlinnie, breaking a bone in his face. He got an extra 18 months. 

In October 1968, Boyle was found guilty of assaults on two Peterhead prison officers and got an added four years. 

June 1970 saw him take part in a riot at Inverness' Porterfield jail and assault two prison officers and the governor. Six months were added to his jail term. 

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 had been at war with the prison system for more than five years.

He would at times cover himself in his own excrement claiming it was to stop prison officers from attacking him.

Boyle was subjected to prolonged solitary confinement in punishment cells and special cages.

It was then that he got a taste for reading literature when sympathetic prison officers would give him a book once a week.

Ironically the first one he read was Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. 

Given the level of violence involving Boyle, something had to change.

He was one of the first to be 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.

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He 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 which he wrote while behind bars.

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

By now he had changed from a violent street thug to a charismatic, highly articulate artist who baked his own bread. 

In 1978, while still in prison, he met and later married public school educated psychiatrist Sarah Trevelyan who had visited him in the special unit after reading A Sense of Freedom. 

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

A film version of A Sense of Freedom starring David Hayman as Boyle was released to critical acclaim and nominated for a BAFTA.

However, the prison scenes had to be filmed in a Dublin jail as the Scottish authorities refused to cooperate.

After being set free in 1982, Boyle and Sarah set up a home in the Inverleith area of Edinburgh and had two children together.

Boyle spoke to the press hours after his release saying: "It's too easy to say I'm sorry. I think the public are sick to death with that sort of thing. 

"I'm not trying to run away from it. But I think people want you to stand by your behaviour now. Most of my victims were people involved in crime and that's part of my life I just want to forget." 

In 1983, the Boyles formed the Gateway Project charity in Edinburgh offering art therapy workshops to recovering drug addicts and ex-convicts with funding from Sir Sean Connery, Sir Billy Connolly and even John Paul Getty.

The Gateway then became Solas, a resource for those suffering from HIV and Aids. The epidemic was at its height in the late 1980s, particularly in Edinburgh.

Boyle was by this time blossoming as an artist and author.

He even ran a champagne importation business from a blue Rolls-Royce allegedly donated by a wealthy rock star.

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In the coming years, Boyle cemented his reputation as an author with the release of another two books, the Pain of Confinement: Prison Diaries, and a novel, Hero of the Underworld.

The latter was adapted for a French film and later won the best documentary prize at the Montreal awards in 2002.

He also wrote a novel, A Stolen Smile, which is about the theft of the Mona Lisa and how it ends up hidden on a Scottish housing scheme. It was even rumoured that Disney was interested in the film rights.

Glasgow Times:

However, as he built a new life for himself there was a chilling reminder in 1994 of his violent past.

That year his first son James Boyle Jnr was stabbed to death by Gary Moore, a well-known Glasgow criminal in the Oatlands area of Glasgow.

Moore had previously been a suspect for the murders of six members of the Doyle family in Glasgow in 1984 and the death of a sex worker in 1991.

At the time of his death, Boyle Jnr, then 27, had served a three-year term for robbery and was also a heroin addict.

Moore, who is now dead, was later convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to eight years for killing James.

Both James and younger sister Patricia were the product of Boyle's relationship with waitress Margaret Kinnear back in the 1960s. 

Boyle had met Margaret after being released from the two-year prison sentence for the bottle attack in which his victim lost an eye. 

Both children were born while Boyle was behind bars, and he would have little contact with them until he moved to the special unit in the early 1970s.

By the time James was born in 1966, Boyle had already been labelled Scotland's most dangerous man and was in Barlinnie serving a three-month sentence for the incident in which a man had died.

Margaret even sent him a telegram to Barlinnie to tell him about the birth. 

Boyle later wrote: "I was really very happy. It was something I could never have imagined myself being - a father." 

In January 1967, after being released from prison he went back to Margaret and his baby son, but he was only out long enough to get her pregnant again. 

When Patricia was born in December 1967, Boyle had already been behind bars for a month. 

This time he was serving life for the Rooney murder

In an interview in 1999, Patricia said: "I didn't get a chance to know my dad, apart from prison visits." 

Over the years, Boyle has rarely talked about his colourful and controversial life and the murder for which he was convicted.

In Sense of Freedom Boyle wrote of having an argument with Rooney and slashing him in the chest. 

He added: "I haven’t been as forthcoming with the circumstances of Babs Rooney’s death as I have been on earlier incidents in the book. 

"The reason for this is that, although I maintain I never killed him, I did slash him, therefore by law I am technically guilty of his murder."

However, in a revised version of the best seller, which came out in 2016, he laid the blame firmly at the door of William Wilson, who was by then dead.

Boyle wrote: "The truth is Babs Rooney … was killed by my co-accused William Wilson. 

"The whole dynamics of this sum up the world where I once lived 

"I kept strictly to the 'no grassing' rule. I put myself away for 15 years for the gangster badge of honour that I wasn't a grass.

"The deal was that whichever of us got off would then say: 'It was me that did it.'

"In those days, thanks to double jeopardy you could not be tried twice for the same crime - but no one listened to him.

"It was the name of the game and we didn't fall out over it."

Boyle now divides his time between France and Morocco with his second wife, Kate Fenwick, a British actress.

He and Sarah divorced after more than 20 years of marriage and their two children, both now in their thirties, have gone on to have successful careers.

In the past critics of Boyle questioned whether he was 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 ex-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.

"If only all the villains that I encountered could have gone straight as successfully."

In one interview in 1999, Boyle described how it was almost inevitable that he would get involved in a life of crime.

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."