TRIPLE axe murderer Thomas McCulloch is set to be released from prison, despite opposition from Scottish ministers.
The 65-year-old diagnosed psychopath, who killed three men when he escaped from the State Hospital at Carstairs in 1976, will leave Castle Huntly open prison on Tuesday.
It is understood Scotland’s parole board unanimously agreed to the release, despite opposition from Scottish Government figures, including justice secretary Kenny MacAskill.
McCulloch, along with fellow Carstairs patient Robert Mone, escaped over the Lanarkshire institution’s barbed-wire fence and murdered three people during a six-hour rampage.
He killed hospital worker Neil McLellan, 46, and patient Iain Simpson, 40, with an axe, before cutting off Mr Simpson’s ears.
The pair then murdered PC George Taylor, 30, and seriously injured another two men – Jack McAlroy was struck on the head with an axe, while Mone stabbed William Lennon six times.
They were eventually caught in Carlisle after holding a young family hostage at their home.
McCulloch was originally sent indefinitely to Carstairs in 1970 after attempting to murder two hotel staff during an argument over a sandwich. He was later diagnosed as a psychopath and kept in solitary confinement for 26 years.
A judge told McCulloch and Mone they would die in jail after they were convicted of the three murders, but they used European human rights legislation to overturn the “whole life” tariffs. Their sentences were changed to a minimum of 30 years, making both eligible for parole in 2006.
Parole board members said there had been no known incidents of violence, drug-taking or alcohol consumption since McCulloch was taken into custody 35 years ago.
But Scottish Conservative justice spokesman John Lamont insisted “life should mean life” for McCulloch. He said: “I think a lot of people would think many prisoners should be released at some point, but in this case, life should mean life.
“The general public will be shocked and appalled this killer will be allowed back into the community.”
Fellow Tory MSP Alex Johnston said he was concerned about the decision and believed McCulloch could still be a danger to society.
He said: “It’s very concerning. There is a serious problem with the persistent release of violent criminals in Scotland. It’s always difficult to comment on individual cases, but in this case, we’ve got somebody with a proven track record of terrible violence.
“In my opinion, he is a danger to society, and it sounds like, in this case, a significant amount of expert advice has been ignored.
“Do we sit back and wait for the next attack to say, ‘I told you so?’ That is going to be no comfort to the victim and their friends and family, is it?”
McCulloch was previously granted day leave from Castle Huntly and is understood to have been granted more than 100 unsupervised visits to his home in Dundee over the past six years.
He applied to the parole board for early release five times previously, but this time officials deemed the killer was no longer a threat to the public.
Ministers recommended he should remain in jail. A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: “We do not comment on individual prisoners – the release of any life-sentence prisoners is a matter for the parole board.”
The Parole Board for Scotland said it could not comment on specific cases.