The Glasgow man dubbed Scotland's most dangerous prisoner
IT was a typical Thursday night in 1970s downtown Glasgow with violence always lingering in the background.
Hardman Hugh Collins was enjoying a few drinks in the popular Lunar Seven Bar in Buchanan Street, close to Sauchiehall Street, with friends.
Known as Shug, Collins was a 26-year-old with a reputation for shoplifting, burglary and violence, when he suddenly graduated to murder.
That evening in early April 1977 he had bumped into William Mooney, a gangland rival, in the same bar.
Mooney reportedly started the resulting fracas, the result of a simmering feud.
After Collins struck him, Mooney, who was married with a young family, got up from the ground and drew out a breadknife, but he was too late.
Collins stabbed him a second time, between the ribs. Just to be sure, he stabbed him again. "I went f***ing completely berserk," he would later recall.
Police quickly identified Collins as the prime suspect and he later stood trial at the High Court in Glasgow where he was given life imprisonment.
His murder conviction was the culmination of 10 years of violent crime which had seen him in and out of penal institutions across Scotland.
Collins had grown up in the Roystonhill area of Glasgow and came from a broken family.
He was the son of Betty Norrie and William "Wullie" Collins. His dad also had a penchant for violence and had been jailed for slashing a local dance hall manager. With his father in prison the young Collins then found himself abandoned by his mother.
His grandfather died when he was eight, and he was brought up by his grandmother who did her best in trying circumstances. Collins, a former altar boy, was expelled from the local St Roch's Secondary aged 15 by which time he was a member of the notorious Shamrock gang.
Life revolved around fighting rival outfits, especially their main enemy, the Calton Tongs.
Two days after his 16th birthday Collins received his first custodial sentence, the outcome of a fight in Glasgow's George Square.
By the time his grandmother died both father and son were granted day release from prison for her funeral.
Collins had spent almost 10 years in young offenders' institutions and jails before the life sentence and was clearly out of control.
His life sentence for Mooney's murder wasn't the end of his battle with the authorities, by any stretch.
In his next 16 years in prison he would earn a reputation as a violent and dangerous inmate for his attacks on prison officers, for which he would get an extra seven years added on to his sentence.
In the first weeks of his life term, he managed to stab three guards, one of them in the neck.
Over the next few years Collins was kept in isolation and underground cells for long spells.
The press called him "Scotland's most dangerous prisoner" and he even spent some of his sentence in a straitjacket.
Collins then became a drug addict and at one stage endured 14 months' solitary confinement.
In his confrontations prison officers were stabbed, slashed and head-butted.
In return, he claimed he was beaten unconscious, suffered broken ribs, shattered feet and a fractured skull.
Collins always tried to fight back and later admitted he would have killed a prison officer at the time if the opportunity and right weapon presented itself.
But though he managed to stab and slash a few, his weapons were all makeshift, cobbled together from razor blades and items stolen from the kitchens.
Every time he managed to punch or head-butt a prison officer, retribution would quickly follow with anything from four to eight men with steel-capped boots dishing out punishment.
Prison officers at the time had nicknames like Slasher, Square Go and Undertaker and revelled in their own notoriety.
Collins would later claim that officers at Perth Prison would take him to an underground cell for daily beatings.
In one interview he said: "I think people might have difficulty believing how bad it was but I remember beatings where I was hit with truncheons so hard I woke with splinters in my head.
"I had my nose broken, ribs broken, my skull fractured.
"They had to take me to hospital with the fractured skull and the medics wanted to know how it had happened but there were always officers with me and I was still conditioned not to grass."
As a Glasgow gangster, Collins had been stabbed, slashed, smashed over the head with iron bars and was generally well prepared for jail beatings but claimed what happened to him was more like torture.
He added: "You knew when you were in for a doing because they always made you take your shoes off at the door so it was harder for you to hurt them.
"I was often handcuffed face down, sometimes stripped naked and I remember a time they were threatening to humiliate me with a baton, so I was relieved they used it to knock me out. But the worst thing, which still causes me agony today, was being whacked repeatedly on the soles of my feet.
"They left me crippled for days at a time.
"Looking back, I know I was a monster. I felt like a monster. But how much of it was in me and how much they created is probably up for debate."
Something had to give and Collins was chosen to join the Barlinnie Special Unit in Glasgow where violent inmates were encouraged to expand their minds by reading books, creating art and taking part in discussions.
There he discovered a talent for writing and sculpting and met another notorious Glasgow hardman and killer Jimmy Boyle.
By this time Boyle had become a successful artist and novelist.
While he was the most high-profile figure to emerge from the unit's enlightened approach, Collins's life was similarly turned around.
He carved stone animals for Edinburgh Zoo, leaving them rough to the touch to enable blind people to visualise them.
Other works made while he was behind bars included a nine-foot statue of a nude Christ.
In 1983 he designed the set for Death in Custody, a play about solitary confinement, and was allowed out to see it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Around this time Collins was given day release to the Cowgate-based 369 Gallery in Edinburgh where he met artist Caroline McNairn.
They married in 1993 following his release from prison the previous year, and were together until her death in 2010 at the age of 55.
Collins wrote two volumes of memoirs, Autobiography of a Murderer (1997) and Walking Away (2001), and a novel, No Smoke (2001) about the 1970s Glasgow where he grew up.
He never shied away from his past and often expressed shame over killing Mooney. When asked if he was sorry in an interview, he said: "Of course I'm sorry for what I did. The second I looked in his eyes and saw he was dying, I felt like a monster. I've carried the ghost of Willie Mooney on my back every day since.
"I don't talk often about my past but when I do the one thing I'd like people to take from it is that brutality never worked."
Despite his own tough upbringing, Collins maintained that people didn't turn to crime because of an impoverished background.
For him it was the appeal of a macho culture and rebellion against a nine-to-five existence that was the attraction.
He also had no time for the glamourisation of a gangster lifestyle. In an interview in 2000 he made a blunt confession: "I was never a gangster, only a bampot."
While in his memoirs he wrote: "What I'm describing here is the ugliness of gratuitous violence. Is there any other kind?"
Collins often reflected on his time in prison and in one interview before his death commented: "I was a monster being punished by monsters. I thought it was the norm until they put me in the Special Unit. "Suddenly I was being treated like a human being and I started to act like one.
"I've been out for nearly 30 years and never caused any bother. Before the unit, even I would never have predicted that change."
Collins was found dead in his chair at his home in the Scottish Borders in August 2021 at the age of 70.
Many glowing tributes to the way he had turned his life around were published at the time.