When a prisoner escaped Glasgow's Barlinnie Jail 'in Governor's breeks'

HMP Barlinnie.
-Credit: (Image: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

On August 10, 1943, former soldier Leonard Wilson and four other prisoners of the notorious HMP Barlinnie were given unsupervised painting work to do in the Governor’s house.

In hindsight, it was perhaps a bad idea to trust Wilson, a convicted housebreaker, to carry out such a task.

Not content with sitting watching paint dry, Wilson decided to make a run for it.

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Ditching his prisoner’s gear, the canny 23-year-old pinched a pair of trousers with braces, a hat, a coat, and a watch - all belonging to the Governor - and made his escape.

The following day Wilson entered another house, in St George’s Road, where the seasoned thief picked up a whole new wardrobe, plus an identity card.

Two days later, however, his luck ran out.

Wilson was travelling on a Glasgow tramcar when he was spotted by an off-duty police officer, who knew he was wanted and recognised him from mugshots.

The officer apprehended Wilson, recovering most of the missing items in the process.

Appearing in court, Wilson admitted to his thievery and was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

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“I cannot help feeling that to escape Barlinnie Prison in the Governor’s breeks was rather a daring effort,” remarked Sheriff Wellwood Johnston at the trial.

It also emerged that on the day of his escape, Wilson, who hailed from London, had made his way to a girlfriend’s house and promised to take her to the English capital if she assisted him. Wilson’s wife was also in London and expecting a baby on the week of his escape.

While proving ultimately unsuccessful, Wilson's bid for freedom from 'the Big Hoose' ranks high as one of the boldest escape attempts in the prison's 140-year history.

HM Prison Barlinnie is set to close within the next 2-3 years, with the decaying institution's £100 million 'super jail' replacement set to be built on land near the Provan gasworks.

The notorious jail is Scotland's largest prison with a capacity of more than 1,000 inmates.

This article was first published in May 2022.