Ex-gangland killer dubbed one of ‘Britain’s most dangerous prisoners’ found dead

Scotland's former "hardest prisoner" Hugh Collins has been found dead in his chair weeks after his 70th birthday.

The gangland killer turned artist died in his sleep at his Scottish Borders' home by a carer, the Daily Record reports.

Collins attacked and stabbed officers after being jailed for life for stabbing gangland rival Willie Mooney to death, earning himself a reputation as the country's toughest lag.

He was beaten by guards and spent long stints in isolation and underground cells during his life sentence.

Collins had already spent almost 10 years in young offenders’ institutions and jails before his murder conviction, but the lifer was rehabilitated at Barlinnie’s Special Unit and was released after 16 years in jail.

By the time he was freed in 1992, he had met and fallen in love with artist Caroline McNairn during his preparation for release.

He said he “carried the ghost of Willie Mooney on his back every day” and that "I felt like a monster" after stabbing Mooney and looking into his eyes, knowing he was dying.

Collins and Caroline wed in 1993 and lived in Edinburgh before moving to a farm cottage near Walkerburn, where Collins remained until his death.

He was found dead just over a week ago and had told friends that he would not be long in following his beloved collie dog, Blackie, who was put down just before his birthday.

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Collins created works of art under the guidance of the 369 Gallery in Edinburgh, run by Caroline’s pal Andrew Brown.

He carved stone animals for Edinburgh Zoo, leaving them rough to the touch rather than smoothing them down as part of the project for the blind, as rough stone made it easier for them to visualise the animal.

As well as his art, Collins wrote two volumes of autobiography and two crime novels.

Caroline died in September 2010 from cancer.

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Collins was devastated and told friends that if he had not had Blackie to look after, he would just “lie down and wait to die”.

He would walk Blackie and play football with him, taking 20 penalties at the dog.

A few days before his 70th birthday, Blackie was put down.

Collins had been involved in two legal actions at the time of his death.

He was starting a civil claim against the Scottish Government for compensation for the beatings, which he believed were responsible for the onset of dementia.

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He was also involved in an action against Edinburgh Zoo.

The Record revealed last year that antique dealer Drew Pritchard, who fronts the Salvage Hunters programme, bought two gorilla heads sculpted by Collins for £1200 on a visit to Edinburgh Zoo in August 2016.

Collins’ lawyer, Gordon Dalyell of Digby Brown, said that his client had made it clear he wasn’t interested in taking money from the zoo, a charity he respected, but he wanted an acknowledgement that the works had been his.

An agreement had been close for a plaque at the zoo to recognise the sculptures were his, and Dalyell hopes it will still go ahead.

Tom Wood, Scotland’s first Drugs Czar believed he was a good example of rehabilitation.

He said: “He was very aware of the damage he had done in his life, and determined not to fall back into that world.”

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