Hugh Collins: Notorious killer-turned-artist dies at home aged 70

A notorious murderer once considered Scotland’s most dangerous prisoner has died in his sleep at the age of 70.

By Ilona Amos
Sunday, 15th August 2021, 12:28 pm

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Hugh Collins was found dead in his chair at his Borders home just over a week ago by a carer, shortly after his 70th birthday.

He was reportedly heartbroken after the recent loss of his pet dog and had said to friends he believed he would soon die too.

Hugh Collins was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a gangland rival but turned his life around when he was released after serving 16 years. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The convicted killer, whose face was etched with the battle scar from a meat cleaver, had turned his life around in later years, becoming well known as a sculptor and for penning a gruesome autobiography detailing his violent past.

Colins had spent almost a decade in young offenders’ institutions and jails before being handed a life sentence for the murder of Willie Mooney in the Luna Bar in Glasgow in 1977.

He developed a reputation as one of the country’s most violent inmates, attacking and stabbing guards, and was kept in isolation and underground cells for long spells.

But he was rehabilitated at Barlinnie’s Special Unit- at the time an experimental process designed to rehabilitate Scotland’s most violent criminals through alternative means such as art, in preparation for life on the outside.

Hugh Collins grew up in a tough area of Glasgow with a hard man for a father. After a prison term for murder, he has made his living as a sculptor. Picture: Adam Elder

It was during this time he met his future wife, artist Caroline McNairn, the love of his life.

He was released from prison in 1992 and the pair married a year later.

They lived first in Edinburgh, then moved to a cottage near Walkerburn, where he remained until his death last week.

McNairn died of cancer in 2010, leaving Collins bereft.

Hugh Collins, once considered Scotland's most dangerous prisoner, died in his sleep at the age of 70 in his Borders home. Picture: Adam Elder

In an interview following her death, he said the misery of losing his wife was achieving what Glasgow gangland foes had failed to do – he was battered and beaten, reduced to skin and bone, mind tormented and depressed, utterly broken.

“Losing her devastated me,” he said.

“I contemplated suicide several times. Deep down I wanted to be dead and to be with her.

“I lay in bed for weeks. I kept thinking she was at the shops and was constantly waiting for her coming back.”

At the time Collins refused to see anyone and stopped eating and drinking.

“I was skeletal, and didn’t see the point in living,” he said.

He had told friends recently that caring for his beloved collie Blackie was the only thing he was living for.

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The dog was put down shortly before Collins, who had been suffering from dementia, turned 70.

Earlier this year he launched a legal challenge against Edinburgh Zoo, after discovering that two gorilla sculptures he created had been sold off to Salvage Hunters presenter and antique dealer Drew Pritchard in 2016.

The programme aired in 2017 but Collins claimed he was not told about the sale and only discovered what had happened after seeing a rerun.

Collins said he had instructed a lawyer to “look at options because I’ve been treated with absolute contempt”.

Ben Supple, director of engagement at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the charity which runs the zoo, said: “Both gorilla head sculptures were sold in good faith by our charity, which protects endangered species in Scotland and around the world.”

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