In the vicious Glasgow underworld, young hardmen earned their spurs by stabbing and shooting, writes ANNA SMITH. Among the thugs was one more ruthless than the rest - Paul Ferris. Ferris felt compelled to tell his story as an enforcer for the notorious Thompson family and his rise to become the most feared figure in Scotland. Writer and TV director Gus McAuley was granted full access to Ferris and his associates. The Daily Record has not paid Ferris for his story.
IF HE was driven by anything it was revenge. And it turned Paul Ferris into a calculating monster who could stab and maim without so much as a backward glance.
From the age of nine, he was systematically bullied and beaten by the notorious Welsh brothers who terrorised Glasgow's Blackhill area.
They extorted money from little boys who feared to walk the streets and they took what they wanted from the little boys' parents as well.
The dread of going to school each morning to face his tormentors brought on a virulent attack of the skin condition psoriasis, which Ferris has to this day.
And when he refused to give in to the brothers, they hung him from a tree when he was 12 years old and left him for dead.
He has never spoken of that day. But it has burned inside him throughout his life, as he slashed and stabbed his way through his teens.
And from those early terrifying days, Ferris decided to exact revenge on each and every one of the Welsh boys.
As Ferris says: "Glasgow was awash with gangsters and bullies. To me, the two are one and the same.
"I'm neither a gangster nor a bully, but that doesn't mean people can step on your toes. For if they do, you have to jump on their neck and break it."
Ferris was born on November 10 1963, at 19 Hogganfield Street in Blackhill, to parents Willie and Jenny.
He says: "If anyone was born into crime it was me. My father was a convicted bank robber and my brother a convicted murderer."
The scheme was one of Glasgow's north-east housing estates, built in the 50s - a drab grey masonry clutch of houses that swiftly became a ghetto which bred crime and violence.
Surrounding these schemes were similar ghettos which bred their own sub- culture of mob law - Easterhouse, Balornock, Garthamlock, Drumchapel.
Ferris says: "Families were poured into these estates in droves much like caged animals.
"A new world and a new order was being created. One that would have lasting repercussions even to this day.
"For by their very creation they gave birth to a generation that today would be construed as families from Hell.
"Not the majority, who were good, honest, decent folk.
"But they were eventually caught up in it one way or another as they had to live and wallow amongst it.
"Territorial disputes began, gangs were formed and battles were to be fought over who was tougher than who and why.
"Enter the brigade of bullies who preyed upon their weak victims and systematically selected easy targets for extortion."
Ferris recalls the time when 60s singing star Frankie Vaughan came to Glasgow to clean up the streets of violence.
He says: "Frankie Vaughan had as much effect on reducing violence in Glasgow as Mario Lanza would have had in Bosnia.
"But a significant amount of weapons were handed in during his plea for amnesty, although the deed itself was short-lived.
"It was high-profile personalities like Frankie that put Glasgow on the map as a city whose reputation for violence was not only confined to Scotland
"In the words of Frankie's song `Give me the moonlight, give me the girl ... and leave the rest to me.'
"He did leave the rest to us, and what a f****** mess it was."
Ferris's early memories of childhood in Blackhill are not all of crime and violence.
Growing up with his father in and out of prison, his mother kept a strict eye on her youngest son and he was never in trouble with police until his teenage years.
He remembers how his grandad patiently taught him how to plant vegetables, and the smell of furniture polish and the coal fire in their home.
He says: "My grandfather played such a large part in my young life. The respect always seemed to shine out of him."
The security of his world soon collapsed when his grandfather died, and his father, who ran a small bus company when he wasn't robbing, went to prison for tax evasion.
Outside, the harsh realities faced him at St Philomena's Primary School, in the shape of the notorious Welsh brothers.
Ferris was only nine, when he stood up to school bully Martin Welsh in a fair fight.
But Welsh had seven older brothers, and the following day they were out to get him.
He was kicked all over the school yard, then forced to fight Martin Welsh again in a fight that he could never win.
Ferris says: "I really had enjoyed school until I became a victim of those Welsh brothers.
"It was at that stage in my life that my mind was opened up to a different world to which I had been taught.
"I was becoming aware that I was rapidly leaving my infancy and entering an altogether differing state of reality.
"I was truly frightened because I was only 10 years of age and had another two years of primary school in the sullied hands of the Brothers Grimm.
"I wasn't very physically well built and I could only withstand so much of the beatings.
"I knew they only wanted to make me cry and I wouldn't do it, plus the fact they just didn't like it that I would always try to defend myself.
"Pure and simple, they were just a bad bunch of vicious, evil b*******."
Ferris can remember the swollen testicles, the cuts, the bruises, the beatings and the hatred.
If he ran away to escape the bullies he would be caught the next day for his ritual beatings.
He says: "So after that I never ran. I stayed to take the beatings but tried not to cry in front of my pals.
"But I did cry when I got home and my mother asked me what had happened to my face. On so many occasions I just simply ran out of lies.
"Eventually, she got the truth from me and made a complaint to the headmaster.
"Needless to say, it only made matters worse and the beatings got more frequent."
Hatred and desperation built up inside Ferris and he still gets upset even recalling those early days.
He says: "Bullying is incredibly powerful, far more powerful than adults really understand.
"We can listen to what children tell us but because they don't often have the words to truly express the depths of their anguish, we don't realise what they're feeling or indeed have empathy with their continuing black turbulent emotions."
To avoid the barbaric Welsh family, Ferris would sometimes stay with a family friend, Bertie O'Connor, a few streets away.
His recollections of young Ferris are of a bright youngster.
He says: "Paul was small and frail while my own boys were aggressive.
"He was very astute, and quite frankly, the majority of it was self taught.
"What I did say to Paul was never to let anyone try and get the better.
"Face up to them, try and retaliate in some way or another, even if it meant lifting a brick."
But still the beatings continued, and just as Ferris was due to leave primary he developed psoriasis.
He says: "It was caused by the unrelenting stress and my screaming nerves reacting violently to my fear of going to secondary school and having to integrate freely among the elder Welsh brothers."
Soon he was in hospital, wrapped up in bandages from head to foot and smeared with cream. The proceedure was agonising and degrading for Ferris.
When he went to St Roch's Secondary School, he felt like half a human being.
He was ashamed of his seeping sores and lied his way out of gym lessons, football and swimming.
He says: "I was so ashamed and could never have faced the cruel ridicule.
"I never got to wear a T-shirt in the summer months because I never liked what I saw on my bare arms and if I didn't like it then no one else was going to see it.
"I became accustomed to psoriasis but never fully recovered psychologically.
"It etched something fierce and lasting into my brain. The stigma of being denied normality.
"I hated myself and more so the Welshes far beyond anyone's imagination. I was becoming vengeful and never really noticed it coming upon me."
Ferris can speak of the rage because of his skin condition, but he has never spoken about the time the Welshes tried to kill him.
It followed a lengthy stand-off with the Welsh brothers who couldn't comprehend the skinny 13-year-old who stood his ground.
Ferris's friend at the time, Edward Deagan, recalls the early beatings and the day they strung Ferris up from a tree.
The Welshes had demanded money from Ferris and other young boys, but they were promptly told where to go.
Edward watched as they set about him with a hammer. To his astonishment, Ferris laughed throughout the beating.
He says: "The funny thing was that throughout this spree I could plainly hear the sound of uncontrollable laughter from the close.
"In a manic sense it reminded me of the laughing policeman down in Blackpool.
"It could only be those b******* as they wellied in. But no, it was the wee man himself.
"Each time they struck a blow, he just laughed in their face.
"In the end I think that by his frightening passive response he scared the s*** out of them and through their own rising fear they just gave up.
"When he finally emerged soaked from head to foot in blood, Paul actually had this grin all over his face.
"I tried hard to see the joke but just couldn't find it within me.
"Still shocked and dazed by the ordeal, Paul came stumbling towards me.
"He said: ` Eddie, no matter how long it takes I'm going to get everyone of those b******* back for what they've done to me today'."
The final solution for the Welsh family was to get rid of the little runt they could not defeat.
Deagan tells of how news spread through Blackhill that a boy was hanging from a tree in the local cemetery.
Crowds ran to the scene, and the semi-conscious Ferris was cut down from the noose.
Deagan says: "The time had come for young Paul to be made an example of because he had been giving the bully boys a right showing up and had severely dented their reputation.
"As local gossip subsided it was just put down to a boyhood prank that went badly wrong.
"But I know within myself that it was the Welsh tribe that hung Paul out to dry that day hoping for all their sakes that he croaked his last, thus restoring their unquestioned territorial dominance."
But the door of retribution was left wide open.
Deagan adds: "To this day Paul has never mentioned the incident, but we all know for certain that he has since acted upon it with vengeance ... and how."
But first Ferris had to graduate into the life of crime that has brought him a fortune.
His first thieving exploit, rolling lead from a bookmakers and selling it for scrap, made him hundreds of pounds.
But when he left school he took a normal job at a Glasgow brewery to please his mother.
He was proud to be bringing home a man's wage of pounds 180 a week, but soon he was presented with a more attractive alternative.
His friends had formed a smash-and-grab syndicate breaking into jewellers around Glasgow which could bring him pounds 500 and more a week.
Ferris recalls: "I had slaved all week to earn that pounds 180 delivering crates of whisky, and spirits up six floors in a buckled two-wheeled barrow.
"All that bloody humping of boxes while the van drivers themselves sat idly on their fat a****."
Moving into more lucrative crime brought Ferris into the penal system for the first time.
He and a mate were caught trying to rob cash from a travel agent's in Airdrie, Lanarkshire, as it was being deposited in the night safe.
In Longriggend Remand Unit, the short, sharp, shock treatment of detention did nothing but aid his criminal exploits.
He slashed another prisoner with an open razor - just to deter any bullies.
On the outside his reputation as a fearless young hoodlum grew when he carried out his first act of revenge on one of his tormentors.
He slashed John Welsh from ear to ear as he walked past him in the street.
Ferris says: "Little did he know that as he casually walked down the street that within the next few seconds he would suddenly acquire a breathing difficulty, and also become the first Welsh that I would get back for all those years of senseless bullying.
"As I was about to walk past him, I turned. Opening my razor, I sliced him right across his face from ear to ear.
"I walked smartly on, leaving him in his blood-soaked garments, clutching his wounded face and battered pride as he fell heavily into the gutter where he and his like belonged.
"He never knew me and no one ever found out who had inflicted the wounds that night until months later."
He had gained the respect of his own people.
He says: "It was for this incident that I became known as the kid who had actually committed himself and subsequently physically retaliated against the much hated and feared Welsh family - someone who had carried out an act that that they had secretly wished to do themselves for years.
"So my actions were generally applauded and much admmired."
Ferris had truly arrived on the criminal scene.
THE KEY PLAYERS
ARTHUR THOMPSON SNR: One of the most feared hoodlums outside London. He ran protection rackets before moving into the Scots drugs scene in the 70s. He took Paul Ferris on as an apprentice but had to freeze him out when he got out of control. Thompson died of a heart attack in 1993.
ARTHUR THOMPSON JNR: Known as Fat Boy because of his gluttony, Thompson jnr was a bully who lived off his father's name. He went on to run the drugs empire helped by enforcers such as Paul Ferris. He was gunned down in the street in 1991. Ferris was eventually cleared of the murder.
JOE HANLON: Nicknamed Bananas because his enemies thought he was mad, Hanlon was a strong-arm man for Glasgow drug runners, the Barlanark team. He ran an ice cream van as a cover for drug dealing. He was killed by a hitman with Bobby Glover in 1991.
BOBBY GLOVER: Once an enforcer for Thompson snr, he and Joe Hanlon set up as rivals to their old boss. He and Hanlon were due to stand trial for the death of Thompson jnr, alongside Paul Ferris but were shot by a hitman in 1991 and their bodies left in Hanlon's car.