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(C) Underbelly Magazine 2018

Howard Wison: Cop gone bad

FORMER policeman-turned-bank robber Howard Wilson, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1969 for murdering two police officers and seriously injuring a third, in a house, in Glasgow's South side.

Wilson was an ex policeman, he had expected to be promoted quickly through the ranks. When that didn't happen, he resigned a angry man.

Still, he had faith in his own abilities, this time as a businessman. Too much faith, in that his two greengrocer shops in Glasgow were losing money fast.

By 1969, Wilson was broke and desperate. Desperate enough to rob a bank.

 LETs rob a bank! His mates all laughed knowing he was joking. Except he was serious. Deadly serious. The ideas man was Howard Wilson.

Tall, smartly dressed, neat haircut, bright, articulate, he was the dominant character in a small group of business pals. He was also an ex-cop.

He was in good company. His pals Ian Donaldson and John Sim - an ex-cop and ex-prison warder - were also struggling in civilian life. The bank robbery was on.

All were members of Bearsden Shooting Club, they legally bought a Russian Vistok .22 pistol from the club president - the very kind of measure that was banned after the massacre of Dunblane.

Recruiting a young man, Archibald McGeachie, as the getaway driver, they were all set.

One day in July 1969, three smart businessmen walked into the British Linen Bank in Williamwood. No one suspected a thing until the men pulled a gun and squirted ammonia in the staff's eyes.

Three minutes later-the three men where driving away, £20,876 richer.

The men weren't stupid, they had a quiet celebratory drink, split the proceeds between them and got on with life as usual; no new cars, expensive holidays or splashing the cash in public.

Ex-cop: Wilson knew that was a sure way to get noticed. The only problem was all three men had businesses running in the red.

By Christmas, that year, they were broke again.

They had crossed the line once, why not cross it again and rob another bank? All agreed apart from young McGeachie.

McGeachie declined the job; exactly why, will never be known, unless Howard Wilson or his co accused decide to tell, but on December 23, 1969, McGeachie disappeared from his home and has never been seen again.

Was he seen as a weak link by the gang? One that had to be shut up?

At the time, the enormous Kingston Bridge spanning the River Clyde was being built. Word on the street then, and now, was that young McGeachie was dumped in one of the massive concrete stanchions that support the bridge.

Only one of the team was capable of doing that - Howard Wilson.

On December 30, 1969, Wilson's team hit the Clydesdale Bank in Renfrew. This time, they got away with £14,212 and a large metal box full of coins. Back at a flat Wilson owned at 51 Allison Street, Govanhill, they unloaded the car. The cash was in suitcases and the metal box in a cardboard box - no passer-by would suspect anything.

Except they were being watched. Across the road, standing in a shop doorway was, Inspector Andrew Hyslop, Hyslop spotted Wilson who he knew from his time in the force - knew and never trusted.

Hyslop didn't yet know about the robbery, but he was curious what the men were unloading and decided to take a closer look.

First radioing his colleagues asking them to join him at the flat, Insp Hyslop went up the close. Howard Wilson greeted him in a friendly way, inviting him in and offering him a drink. It was close to Hogmanay, after all.

Wilson gave Hyslop permission to look in one of the cases. As the cop opened it and discovered it packed with bank notes, Wilson pulled a gun, stuck it in the cop's face, he pulled the trigger - it jammed. He fired again and sent a bullet crashing into Hyslop's skull. Hyslop was alive but incapacitated.

Almost instantly, constables Sellars, MacKenzie and Barnett ran into the room. A trained marksman, Wilson shot MacKenzie and Barnett in the head. Sellars narrowly escaped and took refuge in the bathroom.

Mackenzie was still alive. Coldly, Wilson stooped over him, placed the gun to his temple and fired. A fatal shot.

With one bullet left, Wilson turned noticing that Hyslop was still alive, he bent over and placed the barrel of his gun to Hyslops head.

Just then, a DC Campbell barged into the room, realised immediately what was happening, and dived on Wilson. The gun went off again, but the last bullet crashed into the ceiling. Battle over. Mackenzie was dead. Young Barnett died shortly after from the bullet lodged in his brain. Hyslop survived, but bullet fragments remained in his skull ruining his health till the day he died.

At his trial in 1970, Wilson's team were found guilty only of the robberies and sentenced to 12 years each. Wilson accepted full responsibility for the murders and became Scotland's only cop turned cop killer of modern times.

Sentenced to 25 years, Wilson at first fought the system in riots and attacks on screws.

He was so hard to manage he ended up in the cages at Porterfield Prison, Inverness, ironically along with Jimmy Boyle, who he had once staked out as a cop.

Wilson and other fellow cons Jimmy Boyle, Larry Winters and William McPherson were all charged with 6 attempted murders and a charge of attempting to escape from the maximum security unit at Porterfield prison Inverness on the 28th of December 1972. The four men claimed they were not trying to escape and were-rioting due to brutality at the prison and acting in self defense. The crown based the escape charges on two handwritten letters they found in the units rec area, The letters read.


" The pursuing hounds of authority take note, "We have taken a hostage, one of your screws as you will be now aware, "His safety depends on your actions between now and noon tomorrow (Friday the  29th of December) " Our conditions are as follows.

1). If we are approached, accosted or obstructed by the police or other forces of authority before 12 noon tomorrow he dies".

2).  If story of our departure is spread over the radio or television or released to the press before 12 noon tomorrow he dies, we are in possession of a transistor radio and will check your compliance with these conditions, he will be released on deadline alive and unharmed".

3(. We are all four dead men in the estimation of the society that sentenced each of us to living deaths, in three of our cases to perpetuity," we have been subjected to Brutality and violence at the hand, boots and batons of the uniformed thugs the same society placed in charge of us.

"Our families and friends have been driven from us, and actively discouraged from maintaining contact with us, " You throw us into concrete boxes, and steel barred cages and call it molly coddling us, " you set your black clad thugs on us, six to eight on one, to attack us physically and savagely and you call it restraining, you brutalise, dehumanize and degrade us, "You try to make us desperate and into mindless vegetables and you call this rehabilitation.

Worst of all you give us no vestige of hope, on the contrary, the hysterical mouthing s of a political dinosaur sets out to destroy and last glimmer of hope of the future freedom with genuine retraining and rehabilitation " We repeat, you have pronounced us dead. The life of the hostage is also just as surely in your hands till noon Friday 29th.

2nd note titled SILENT VIGILANCE

Do not disturb. We have shut ourselves in with the purpose of holding a protest/sit-in against the further postponement of the meeting of the unit board. " PS we have allowed the screws to stay to"

The Governor at the time told the court his interpretation of the first document was it was meant to cover the four prisoners attempting to murder or subdue the prison officers, take their keys, take them to the main gate and escape with a prison officer hostage, the second document was to cover the prisoners if the first plan backfired.

The jury was out for two hours and ten minutes and came back with not guilty on the six attempted murders, but they were found guilty of six assaults and attempting to escape, all four accused were sentenced to a further six years added to their current sentences.

Later, Wilson settled down in jail and took to writing. A novel, Angels of Death was a best-seller and won the Koestler Award.

Wilson was released from Castle Huntly prison in Perthshire on Tuesday, 1 October, 2002

He was sentenced in 1970 and had served 32 years in prison.

Norrie Flowers, SPF chairman said the police believed the punishment should fit the crime.

He said: "This was a pretty horrific case, even though it was 32 years ago.

"But when you look at it from the perspective that this was a former police officer who murdered two police officers, and attempted to murder another police officer, there were three ruined lives.

"We just think that anyone who murders a police officer should never be released.

"Life should mean life."

Mr Flowers added: "The relatives of all the people that were murdered have gotten a life sentence of their own to deal with, so we think, at the very least, the killer should also serve that sentence."

Wilson  slipped quietly into obscurity. Alone with his thoughts now, does he recall the time after he was sentenced?

When women, kids and policemen families from all over Scotland demonstrated in George Square, calling for the return of the death penalty, which had been abolished 6 years before the murders.

So horrified were the politicians that they considered giving in to the women's demands.

Cop killer Howard Wilson almost swung - by his neck.