Howard Wilson was born in Glasgow on 21 February 1938 in Glasgow. He came of respectable parents and was a pupil of Glasgow Academy. In December 1958, he joined the City of Glasgow Police and had the Register No. M.341. He was posted to ‘A’ (Central) Division and during his police career he was commended nine times for zeal and efficiency. In the mid-1960s he was Turnkey at the Central Police Office but soon became
disillusioned at not being promoted, despite his ambitions to succeed. In 1968, he resigned from the police and started a greengrocer’s shop,‘The Orchard’, in the Mount Florida area of Glasgow, but he quickly got into financial trouble. He was thirty-one years of age and married with a young family.
He began associating with two men, fellow members of the Bearsden Gun Club, and their joint need for money soon became plans to venture into the world of crime.
One of Wilson’s friends was Ian Donaldson, also thirty-one, married, with three children. The third man was John Sim, then only twenty-two years of age, also married and with one child.
For about two years he had also been a policeman but had been required to resign because he was unlikely to become an efficient constable. Guns fascinated Sim and he made a hobby of collecting firearms. In the autumn of 1969 he bought a Russian Vostok .22 pistol from a member of the Bearden Gun Club. He did so quite legitimately, but that was the pistol which was to kill two police officers.
On 16th July, 1969, the three men, aided by a fourth man, Archie McGeachie, got together to raid a bank. The bank chosen was the British Linen Bank in Williamwood, Renfrewshire.
Dressed in smart lounge suits and carrying brief-cases, they arrived at the bank about 3.30 p.m. One was armed with the pistol and the others carried plastic lemon shaped containers filled with ammonia.
They pulled nylon stockings over their heads and faces and, striding into the bank, held up the staff of three men and two women at gunpoint. To the staff, one of the raiders said: ‘This will take only a few minutes; if no one does anything silly no one will get hurt.’
One of his companions then wrenched the telephone from the wall, while the others forced the staff into the manager’s office. There, all except the manager were blindfolded and had their wrists bound. The manager was then compelled to open the safe, from which the raiders took £25,306. But in their anxiety to get away they left behind a brief-case containing £4,430, making their final haul £20,876. Despite an extensive hunt, weeks passed without any progress in the case.
They soon realised that the money was not enough and decided on another bank raid, their choice this time the Clydesdale Bank in Bridge Street, Linwood, Renfrewshire. McGeachie told the other three men that he did not want any part of their criminal activities. He later disappeared and is presumed murdered.
On 29th December 1969, the youngest member of the gang, Sim, called at the bank and was interviewed by the accountant with regard to opening an account in connection with a plant-hire business. Before leaving he said that he would call again with two friends.
At precisely 3.15 p.m. next day the raiders entered the bank. They were unmasked and were armed with a pistol, a dagger, and a knife. They also had with them several pillow-cases, some string, and two suitcases. The manager, Mr. Fleming, was out and Mr. Mackin, the assistant manager, showed all three into the manager’s office. Then, without warning, he was thrown aside and the door was closed. Mr. Mackin was about to protest when a pistol was pressed against his temple along with the warning: ‘If we have full co-operation no member of the staff will be harmed.’ With that, a pillow-case was placed over Mr. Mackin’s head and his hands were bound.
Seconds later, Mr. Fleming returned. As he entered his office a gun was placed against his neck and he was warned to be silent. Another pillow-case was thrown over his head and his hands were bound.
In the bank at the time, but quite unaware of the situation in the manager’s office, were a man and two girls, members of the staff, and a customer, a Mr. Gibb. Suddenly, the raiders emerged from the manager’s office and held all four at gun-point. None made a move and patiently submitted to being thrust into the manager’s office, where pillow-cases were put over their heads and their wrists were bound.
While this was taking place, Mrs. Margaret Pirie, wheeling her two-year-old son in his pram, knocked on the bank door. One of the raiders opened the door, but the moment she stepped inside she was forced at gunpoint into the manager’s office. She was later allowed to bring her son into the bank.
The safe was open and all the notes it contained were packed into three leather cases. But then greed overcame judgement. There was a large quantity of silver coins in the safe and the raiders were convinced that there was more money in the bank. A male member of the staff was compelled, with a knife at his throat, to unlock a drawer under the counter. The silver coins were placed in a black metal box and several canvas bags, the latter being later transferred to the two suitcases. In all, the raiders got away with £14,212.
From that moment time meant everything and the car was driven at high speed towards Glasgow. And shortly after 4 p.m. the car entered Allison Street, turned left into Niddrie Road and stopped approximately two
hundred yards from Craigie Street Police Office. The three bank robbers immediately started to carry their loot into a tenement close in 51 Allison Street. The raiders had to make two journeys from the car to the close, and during the second journey they were seen by Inspector Andrew Hyslop.
Inspector Hyslop and Constable John Sellars, also of the Southern division, were in a police Panda car which had just emerged from the rear of the police station. Traffic in Allison Street was continuous and the police car had to stop. And it was while it was stationary that Inspector Hyslop saw the three men, one carrying a black metal box, while his companions were each labouring under the weight of a suitcase perched on his shoulder. Inspector Hyslop saw all three enter the close at 51 Allison Street.
Neither Inspector Hyslop nor Constable Sellars were then aware of the bank raid at Linwood, but Inspector Hyslop, who knew Howard Wilson from the Central Division, had a nagging suspicion that what he had seen the men carrying might be the proceeds of crime and he decided to check.
Crossing the street, Hyslop and Sellars entered the close and stopped at a ground-floor flat on the right. Both officers then went into the back-court and looked through the kitchen window, without seeing anyone.
Leaving Constable Sellars on watch, Inspector Hyslop went back to the police station for assistance. While Sellars was standing guard, one of the men came out and said: ‘How are you getting on, Constable? I used to be in the force. I’m going for a bottle of milk. Who are you waiting for?’
Sellars replied: ‘I’m just waiting for the inspector.’
Meanwhile Detective Constable John Campbell, Detective Constable Angus McKenzie, and Constable Edward Barnett were returning with Inspector Hyslop.
As the officers crossed the street they met Wilson coming from a dairy shop. He was the first to speak.
‘Hello, Andra, how are you getting on?’ he asked Inspector Hyslop.
‘I’m all right,’ replied Hyslop. ‘But I’d like a word with you about what I saw a few minutes ago. I saw you and two others carrying suitcases and a black box into your close and I’d like to know what’s in them.’
‘You are making a mistake, Inspector; you never saw me carrying anything,’ he was told.
‘I saw you all right,’ said Hyslop,’ ‘and I would like to search that house.’
‘O.K.,’ replied the man, ‘go ahead and search, but you will not find any stolen property.’
All the rooms in the house opened on to a central hall. Both the kitchen and the living-room doors were open and on the floor of the living room were the two suitcases. One was lying on its side and the other was upright. Donaldson was sitting on it drinking beer from a mug and demanded: ‘What the hell do you want?’ Sim was also in the room but appeared to be terror-stricken at the entrance of the police.
Refusing Wilson’s offer of a drink, Hyslop pushed his companion aside and opened the suitcase. It was loaded to capacity with canvas bags full of silver coins. In the other suitcase similar bags were equally full, and Hyslop and his companions suddenly realised they had come across the proceeds of a major crime.
Despite this damning evidence, Wilson didn’t lose his composure. Donaldson began cursing and swearing, while Sim, who later claimed that he never wished to take part in the robbery, presented a pathetic figure.
Inspector Hyslop told them: ‘I would still like to see the metal box that was carried in.’
Ignoring denials that it existed, Hyslop and Constable Sellars went into the bathroom, leaving the detectives guarding the suitcases. At that moment two of their suspects went into a bedroom.
In the living room were Detective Constables Campbell and McKenzie; Constable Barnett was in the kitchen, and Inspector Hyslop and Sellars were still in the bathroom.
Having failed to find the metal box, Inspector Hyslop returned to the hall. Standing a few feet from him, Wilson was taking aim at his head with a pistol.
Inspector Hyslop’s first words were: ‘Don’t be a bloody fool, man.’
Wilson pulled the trigger. There was a click; the gun had jammed. Calmly, he cleared the obstruction and again took aim. Realising that the man meant to kill him, Inspector Hyslop attempted to knock the gun upwards. But he was too late. The gun fired and a bullet shattered the left side of his face and penetrated his neck. Hyslop spun round and collapsed. Bleeding profusely, he did not lose consciousness but was unable to move.
The sound of shooting brought Donaldson into the hall and when he saw what had happened he panicked and fled from the house.
The same sound brought Constable Barnett to the door of the kitchen. He got no farther and fell shot through the head. Mortally wounded, he lay in the hall a few feet from Inspector Hyslop.
Seconds after Constable Barnett had fallen, Detective Constable McKenzie came to the door of the living room and was also shot in the head. Inspector Hyslop saw the bullet strike McKenzie on the forehead and travel upwards over his scalp. Blood flowing from the wound, he, too, collapsed but the Wilson realised the wound was not fatal. Calmly walking over to Detective Constable McKenzie, he put the gun to his head and fired.
Only Detective Constable John Campbell and Constable John Sellars then remained unscathed. Constable Sellars had seen Inspector Hyslop shot and had returned to the bathroom. From there he bravely sent out calls for help on his pocket radio which he knew would draw the attention of Wilson on his murderous rampage. Thankfully his calls were heard in the nearby Southern police station, although he could not hear a reply as he had left the receiver portion of his radio in his Panda car. Wilson heard the calls for help and shouted to Sim, ‘We’ll need to get that bastard, he’s got at pocket radio.’
The gunman then made strenuous efforts to get into the bathroom. The door partially opened sufficient to allow him to get his hand with the gun inside, but not far enough to enable him to shoot Constable Sellars, who was continuously calling for help on his radio while holding the door closed.
His attempt to get at Sellars having failed, the gunman saw Inspector Hyslop stir, went over to him, and put the gun to the inspector’s head. Lying helpless alongside his fallen colleagues, Inspector Hyslop looked up at the man and heard the trigger click. But there was no shot; the gun had jammed a second time.
Incredibly, the shooting of the three officers and the attempt to get at Constable Sellars had taken less than a minute. And it was at this stage that Detective Constable Campbell came from the living room, in time to see Wilson’s gun at Inspector Hyslop’s head.
With great gallantry Campbell rushed the gunman and dragged him to the floor. There was a furious struggle, during which the killer kept calling on Sim to come to his assistance. But he made no attempt to intervene and eventually Campbell succeeded in wresting the gun away from Wilson, injuring his hand in the process.
Campbell got to his feet, and with the gun covering both men, he slowly backed towards the outer door. At that moment, Sergeants Kenneth McIvor and Alistair Allan, answering Constable Sellar’s radio calls for help, rushed in and arrested the men.
Detective Constable McKenzie was found to be dead at the scene while Constable Barnett died five days later in the Victoria Infirmary.
Meanwhile, Donaldson, who had fled, was wandering aimlessly around the district. Finally, giving up, he went home. There, awaiting his return, was Detective Inspector John Watson of the Southern division and officers of Renfrewshire C.I.D.
Following their arrest on a charge of murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery at two banks, the accused made three appearances at the sheriff court in Glasgow, the last being on 6th February, 1970. The crown by then had decided to drop the murder charges against the gunman’s two companions.
When the court assembled on 6th February, Mr. Joseph Beltrami, solicitor, representing both ex-policemen, informed Sheriff Middleton that Howard Wilson wished to confess to the murder of Detective Constable McKenzie and Constable Barnett, attempting to murder Inspector Hyslop, threatening to shoot Constable Sellars, and to the bank robberies at Williamwood and Linwood. Absolute silence followed the announcement. Never before in a Scottish criminal court had any man confessed to such a grave indictment.
On 13th February, 1970, at the high court in Edinburgh, the three accused appeared for sentence before the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Grant.
Wilson was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he should serve a minimum of twenty-five years, and to twelve years’ imprisonment on the robbery charges, the sentences to run concurrently. Donaldson and Sim were each sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment. In 2002, Howard Wilson was released from prison under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The police officers who died were both married. Detective Constable McKenzie left a widow and Constable Barnett a widow and two children.
Of the three officers who survived, Inspector Hyslop suffered most. Parts of the bullet were still deeply embedded in his neck. After many months on sick leave Inspector Hyslop returned to duty. But the shock of his terrible experience had left him unfit to carry on and in June, 1971, he had to resign from the force.
On 29th September, 1970, it was announced that Her Majesty the Queen had approved awards of the George Medal to Inspector Hyslop and Det. Constable Campbell. Awards of the Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry were posthumously awarded to Det. Constable McKenzie and Constable Barnett. In November 1970, all five officers were awarded the Glasgow Corporation Medal for Bravery.
Copyright GPHS – 2020