Jimmy Boyle

Scottish ex-gangster Jimmy Boyle received a life sentence for murder only to turn his life around, receive parole and become an acclaimed artist.


Born on May 17, 1944, in Glasgow, Scotland, Jimmy Boyle became a member of a powerful gang. In 1967, despite maintaining his innocence, he was convicted of the murder of Babs Rooney and received a life sentence. He later participated in the Barlinnie Prison Special Unit's new rehabilitation program, eventually earning himself parole. Boyle has since become a successful international sculptor and has written several books.    


James “Jimmy” Boyle was born on May 17, 1944, in Gorbals, Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a robber who died while Boyle was still a child, and Boyle’s mother took care of him and his brothers by working cleaning jobs from sunup to evening. Influenced by his harsh surroundings, Boyle entered the world of crime as a youth, first getting arrested at 13 and later becoming a violent debt collector for a money-lending ring. In his early 20s he was twice charged with murder and cleared.

Convicted of Murder

Boyle’s reputation as “Scotland's Most Violent Man” appeared to be confirmed when he was convicted for the killing of Babs Rooney in 1967 and given a life sentence. Boyle admitted that he had injured Rooney but has maintained he didn’t commit the murder, refusing to name the person responsible.

In prison Boyle had extreme clashes with authorities, receiving solitary confinement in a small cage for an extended period of time. Then, in 1973, he was one of the first offenders to participate in Barlinnie Prison Special Unit's rehabilitation program, which focused on more open communication between inmates and staff. Due to an art therapy program, he started to work in clay and produced a male likeness, awakening a major creative talent. While still in prison he wrote his autobiography, Sense of Freedom, published in 1977. Around this time he also wrote the play The Hard Man with Tom McGrath.

Becomes Noted Artist

After his parole in 1982, Boyle became a businessman, worked with young addicts in the Gateway Exchange program and became one of Scotland's most famous reformed criminals, though he still faced criticism in the press. He had wed psychiatrist Sarah Trevelyan in 1980, with the couple going on to have two children, in addition to two children whom Boyle had by a previous union. His 28-year-old son Jimmy would be murdered in a skirmish with a drug dealer in 1994. Boyle married British actress Kate Fenwick in 2007.

Boyle became further known for his sculpture work, earning an international reputation as an acclaimed artist with pieces selling for high sums. He and his family lived in Edinburgh for a time before eventually moving to the French Riviera and then Morocco, where Boyle continued to develop his craft and set up literacy programs for the regional community.

Boyle has also penned the novel Hero of the Underworld (1999) and an unpublished work title A Stolen Smile, which was optioned by Disney in 2003. His book A Sense of Freedom was adapted into a 1979 film, starring David Hayman as Boyle.

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