Twenty-five years after police-killer Howard Wilson brutally betrayed

his former colleagues and left a city in a state of shock, he talks to

George Hume about his crimes, life in prison, and the prospects of


HOWARD Charles John Wilson intended it to be just one more visit to

Aladdin's cave . . . a bank robbery to ensure a Happy New Year with

money to burn, and no risk of getting caught. But as Hogmanay crowds

thronged Glasgow's streets two police constables were murdered in cold

blood, a third was grievously wounded, and the city, shocked by the

pitiless brutality in its midst, brought in the New Year in mourning.

The hurt of the widows and orphans, fellow officers and the city as a

whole was the worse when it was learned that the killer, Wilson, was

himself a former policeman. One of his fellow bank robbers had also

served in the force -- a double betrayal that reduced the senior

detective in charge of the murder inquiry to unashamed tears.

Slain by shots from Wilson's Soviet-made target pistol, each

deliberately sighted and discharged at close range, were Constable

Edward Barnett and acting Detective Constable Angus MacKenzie. Also

shot, and seriously injured, was Inspector Andrew Hyslop.

At the High Court, where Wilson admitted murder and attempted murder,

it was revealed that Constable MacKenzie would have survived, already

shot in the face, had not Wilson stood over his former colleague, taken

steady aim and discharged a second shot into the young detective's head.

That was 25 years ago come Friday . . . the Allison Street shootings

of December 30, 1969, a black act of infamy. This Hogmanay, Howard

Wilson, in a cell at Saughton Prison in Edinburgh, will celebrate the

passing of the old year with hope that the new will bring news of

ultimate release.

Sentenced to serve not less than 25 years -- told by the late Lord

Grant, the Lord Justice Clerk, that ''those who play for high stakes

must realise the penalties are equally high'' -- Howard Wilson says he

does not expect freedom for at least another three years and

acknowledges: ''They say 'you are doing a life sentence and you are

lucky if you get out' and they are right. I live in the real world --

accept that I will be lucky ever to be freed.''

Wilson's murder of two former colleagues, his shooting of a third and

his attempt to silence a fourth calling for help on his police radio,

was described in the High Court as cold, callous, and calculated. The

Solicitor-General for Scotland, the late Ewan Stewart, QC, giving a

minute-by-minute reconstruction of the shootings, said: ''The events I

have just described indicate an intention on Wilson's part not just to

disable in order to make an escape but, it must seem, an intention to


Wilson's wife, Julia, who moved to Lochdochart Road in Glasgow after

the shootings at her home in Allison Street, has long since divorced him

and moved south with their two children. Wilson says he has lost touch

with them. He has spent almost all his thirties and forties in a cell,

is now aged 56 and expects, at the earliest, to get his freedom not far

short of his sixtieth birthday.

How did it come about that the 6ft 3in tall Wilson, a rugby player and

popular, well-behaved pupil at Glasgow Academy, a smart national

serviceman in the Army, 10 years a police constable in Glasgow, and

several times commended by his chief officer for zeal, turned to murder?

''Quite simply it was the temptation of easy money -- greed and

temptation. The message is clear: if I wasn't involved in crime there

would have been no weapons and no weapons would have meant no murders.

When you commit a crime you never think it will go wrong. You want to

take the shortcut -- you don't intend the catastrophe,'' says Wilson.

The catastrophe of December 30, 1969, was man-made and Wilson makes no

excuses -- he was the man that made it. The circumstances leading up to

the murders and the attempted murder took just 55 minutes to relate to

the High Court in February 13, 1970, when Wilson pleaded guilty, was

sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum 25 years, and

saw his two associates sent down for 12 years apiece for bank robbery.

A failing fruit-and-vegetable business, the court heard, left Wilson,

aged 31, in desperate financial straits. Also hard-up and in partnership

in a garage business in Hamilton were John David Sim, aged 22, for 18

months a probationary constable with Glasgow Police, and Ian Donaldson,

aged 31. Wilson refers to them today as ''guys I had known in the

past''. The three got their heads together, settled on bank robbery as a

form of income and, as Wilson puts it today, ''talk turned to will''. On

July 16, 1969, the three, together with another man never traced and

believed to be now dead, entered the British Linen Bank at Giffnock just

as it was closing for public business at 3.30pm.

The staff, including the manager, and one customer, were bound and had

pillow cases put over their heads. A pistol was held against the back of

the manager's neck, a woman, knocking to be admitted, was let in, sent

back out for her two-year-old son, and then had the pistol held against

her head and that of her child. The robbers brought their car to the

front door, loaded the proceeds of their raid -- #20,876 was stolen but

a briefcase containing #4430 was inadvertently left behind -- and drove

to Wilson's home where they divided the loot.

But five-and-a-half months later, the money spent and a new year just

hours away, the robbers struck again. This time their target was the

Clydesdale Bank in Bridge Street, Linwood. Once again they went in just

before closing time, once again a pistol was used to threaten, and once

again the robbers escaped, this time with #14,000 -- some of it bags of

silver coins stuffed into suitcases stowed in the boot of the getaway


Appearing for Wilson at the High Court, the then Mr Nicholas Fairbairn

said on his behalf that debt was a cruel and relentless master

''creating in its victims the fantasy that one visit to Aladdin's Cave

would result in the terrible burden being gone for ever''. It was as

Wilson and his fellow bank robbers staggered from the car to the close

at 51 Allison Street, burdened by two heavy suitcases and a black box

laden with coins, that they were seen by officers driving out of the

yard at the rear of Craigie Street police station.

Two journeys had been necessary to move the proceeds of the raid from

the car to Wilson's ground-floor flat and it was during the second of

these that the men were spotted by Inspector Andrew Hyslop who was in a

Panda car with Constable John Sellars. Inspector Hyslop recognised

Wilson as an ex-policeman. Suspicious, he thought Wilson might be

involved in reset and Constable Sellars, given the time of year, thought

it might be whisky. They decided to investigate. Neither knew of the

bank robbery at Linwood.

Both officers went into the close at No. 51, stopped outside the door

of Wilson's flat and then went into the back court to look through the

flat's window. They saw nothing. Leaving PC Sellars in the back court,

Inspector Hyslop went back across the road to Craigie Street police

station and returned with reinforcements -- Detective Constable John

Campbell, Acting Detective Constable Angus MacKenzie, and Constable

Edward Barnett.

Even as they hurried across Allison Street to No. 51, the policemen

met Wilson -- going, he said, for a bottle of lemonade -- who asked

Hyslop how he was getting on. Inspector Hyslop, in turn, asked Wilson

about the heavy suitcases and the black box he had seen being carried in

just a few minutes earlier and demanded to know what was in them. Wilson

denied carrying anything. What happened next was described by Ewan

Stewart QC in the High Court. The two other bank raiders and the money

were found in Wilson's flat. Polite and co-operative, Wilson gave the

policemen no reason to suspect violence. He went into his bedroom and

returned to the door of that room just as Inspector Hyslop came out of

the bathroom where he had been searching for the black metal box seen

being carried from the car.

Mr Stewart said: ''He saw Wilson standing there alone with a pistol in

his right hand and his right arm extended, taking aim at Hyslop's head.

He tried to fire but there was a click indicating the pistol had jammed.

He pulled back the sliding jacket of the weapon to clear the obstruction

and proceeded to take aim again.

''The inspector rushed at him and he fired, striking Hyslop on the

left side of the face, spinning him round. He collapsed on the floor

unable to move though still fully conscious. It was then MacKenzie came

into the hall and Barnett came to the kitchen door. Wilson shot first

MacKenzie and then Barnett each in the head. Both fell, Barnett mortally

wounded. He died five days later.

''Hyslop witnessed next, as he lay helpless on the floor, Wilson step

forward where MacKenzie lay, take deliberate aim again at his head and

fire. Wilson then attempted to shoot Sellars who had taken refuge in the

bathroom. He had a pocket radio and he could hear Wilson shout: 'We'll

need to get this bastard, he's got a radio.''

But although Wilson managed to get his gun round the bathroom door he

was unable to get off a shot at PC Sellars. Colleagues in Craigie Street

police station, alerted by the desperate calls for help, poured into the

street but were uncertain of just where the shooting was going on.

Wilson was still in a killing mood. Inspector Hyslop stirred and Mr

Stewart, QC, told the High Court: ''Wilson noticed this and swung his

pistol to point at the inspector's head. With very commendable courage

and promptitude Campbell flung himself across the hall at Wilson before

he could fire again. Both fell and Campbell got hold of the pistol

barrel and he and Wilson struggled, with Wilson screaming at Sim to get

more ammunition from the car.''

Constable Campbell won the fight, got possession of the pistol and

held both Wilson and Sim at gunpoint. Donaldson ran off when the

shooting started. This week John Campbell, who retired from the police

eight years ago with the rank of chief inspector, was reticent about his

bravery. ''In a situation like that instinct takes over. Once I tackled

him it was one against one. He was a big fellow and it was some tussle.

I was pretty tired at the end but once I got a grip on the barrel of the

gun he very quickly gave up and I held them up with it. Then I went to

the door and shouted so that the others in the street would know exactly

where we were.''

Both Constable Campbell and Inspector Hyslop were awarded the George

Medal. Of Wilson and his sentence, Mr Campbell says: ''He wiped out my

colleagues and you cannot lose bitterness of that. But when it comes to

the length of his sentence I am prepared to leave that to the


Just three years after admitting the murders at Allison Street and

being jailed for life, Wilson was sentenced to six years when a jury

found him guilty -- together with others -- of assaulting five prison

officers and attempting to escape. But that cannot be added to his life


He has already had a number of escorted visits to see relatives but

says that experiencing the pace of life 25 years on is exhausting. The

man who had ambitions, who went to an Aladdin's cave to fulfil them,

admits: ''Life is simpler in prison. What I am concerned with is the

price of peanut butter in the canteen; that is what we talk about now.''