The celebrated North Court in the venerable High Court building in Glasgow's Saltmarket may never have seen a case like it, possibly never will again.

The entire underbelly of Glasgow was laid obscenely bare in all its foetid, sordid reality as the Scottish criminal legal establishment attempted to halt the East End heroin gangs in their tracks and bring to an end a chapter of very public brutality which was frightening even by Glasgow's standards.

Glasgow's City of Culture label was left looking distinctly tattered.

It was the summer of 1992 and on trial was an insignificant-

looking young Glasgow thug, Paul John Ferris, accused of murdering Arthur ''Fat Boy'' Thompson, son of Glasgow's Godfather, Arthur Thompson.

The Byzantine complexity of the tale which emerged from the court fascinated the public for eight weeks - what Lord McCluskey, the trial judge, described as ''an extraordinary catalogue of lies and deceit, cruelty and death''.

Sadly for the greater good of Glasgow society, the Crown was at its most inept. A plodding, lacklustre performance centred on the use of an English professional informer, Dennis David Woodman, was meat and drink for Donald Findlay QC, and Ferris was acquitted of murder, attempted murder, knee-capping assault and drug dealing.

Findlay's razor-sharp cross-examination of Woodman, a self-confessed liar whose evidence in a dozen different cases had led to 20 men being jailed for a total of 90 years, had utterly discredited the Crown case in the eyes of the jury.

Ferris, a fourth-rate gutter criminal with all the style of a cheap barrow-boy, walked free from court to a reception in Scotland's two best-selling tabloids little short of hero worship.

His journalist mouthpiece was suddenly the most sought-after figure in the tabloid world, and the housing schemes which he terrorised lapped up every word.

But the police had, by bringing the whole tangled, foul mess out into the open, paved the way for a change in attitude towards drugs, guns, knifing, money-lending and the other rackets which the city's major gangsters run.

They have never sought anyone else for the killing of Arthur Thompson Jr. But the police effectively put before the Scottish public for the first time the basic brutality behind the seedy glamour of Glasgow gangsterism.

The episode did, arguably,

hasten the arrival of more sophisticated, intelligence-based policing with a heavy concentration on targeting individual suspects high up the criminal ladder. Very significant inroads have since been made into serious criminality in West Central Scotland; crime figures in practically every category declined and continue to do so.

What was abundantly clear at the climax of the East End violence was that it could not be allowed to continue; the sewers had to be flushed clean of scum such as Ferris and the Thompsons.

Arthur Thompson Sr, who delivered a bravura performance from the witness box in which he reviled the police and denied he was Glasgow's Godfather, was not a businessman as portrayed by the tabloids but a violent, cruel criminal who latterly made his money from money-lending, extortion, controlling prostitution and drugs - channelling the gains through pubs and clubs and small businesses run by proxy. His earlier criminal history was one of armed robbery and safebreaking, but he had become ''respectable''.

His son, Arthur Jr, was an unsuccessful heroin dealer who was caught by police in 119985 and jailed for 11 years. He attempted to continue to run his heroin business from jail, a feat beyond his modest criminal accomplishments.

Fellow criminals in Peterhead Prison told The Herald at the time that Fat Boy would be better keeping his head down and his mouth shut. While within the long shadow cast by his father he was relatively safe; if he continued to make threats and then stepped outside the cocoon of prison, he would have a short life expectancy.

So it proved. Ferris had formerly been a friend and ally of the Thompsons, often referred to as closer to Arthur Thompson than was his own son. But Ferris and his henchmen had defected to become part of the rival Barlanark mob, and it was two of that gang who were blamed in court for the murder of Fat Boy.

Throwing mud in that direction was fairly safe, since the two men in question, Joe ''Bananas'' Hanlon and Bobby Glover, had been found dead on the morning of the funeral of Arthur Thompson Jr, shot up the backside and through the base of the skull. Their bodies were found in a car a few feet from the gang's pub.

There were two theories: that they were murdered on the orders of Arthur Thompson as revenge for the death of his son, and that they were murdered because they were the only witnesses to the killing of Fat Boy. Either way, their killers have never been brought to trial.

The bloody chapter which culminated in the Ferris acquittal had thrown up other victims, The infamous Jonah McKenzie had become ''Blind'' Jonah - his remaining eye slashed out by one of the Barlanark Team.

He was named by Ferris as the man behind the murder of Fat Boy. Another criminal, William Gillen, had been crippled by knee-

capping. Ferris was acquitted on that count.

In the tit-for-tat battle a hand grenade was tossed into the Caravelle Bar - now demolished - but failed to explode, and a shot was fired at Ferris in the street, allegedly by a Thompson family member. Ferris's car required cosmetic surgery.

Ferris's brother, Billy, was already serving a life sentence for murder, but Ferris Sr, also William, was on the receiving end of some rough treatment from the Thompson side, near neighbours in Blackhill - Glasgow's ultimate sink housing scheme.

Ferris Sr was beaten with hammer and baseball bat, slashed to the tune of 100 stitches and then had his car destroyed by fire. There was much other violence and brutality which went unremarked and unreported to the police.

Throughout all this Ferris remained relatively unscathed, emerging at the other side with a crooked grin of triumph and an enhanced reputation on the mean streets. With the demise of the Thompsons - Arthur Sr died a natural death - there was a new Godfather.

The game had changed, moved on, and Ferris was at his right hand.