"The losing of my virginity was interesting. Again it was late, I was 21/22, I think it was 22, it was December 1976. I had got out of prison the November before and was living in Swindon. We met at our place of work. She was of a different race to me; she was a black West Indian who had come to this country when she was sixteen. She was five years older than me and had four children. I stayed at her house for a while. During the second night I lost my virginity. She did not know I was a virgin, I never told her. As to if I enjoyed it I can only say I never had the chance to think about it as we made love for a second time shortly afterwards. I lived with her for two or three months and we planned to marry. We never did."
Seemingly unable to keep himself out of trouble, with neither skills nor direction, in 1977 Ireland was sentenced to a further eighteen months' imprisonment for "demanding with menace." Over the next few years he was constantly in and out of prison: in 1980 he was sentenced to two years inside for robbery; a year later he served two months for attempted deception; and in 1985, he was sentenced to six months for "going equipped to cheat." In between these periods of incarceration, Ireland worked sporadically in a variety of unskilled jobs, including work as a bouncer in various bars, including a gay club, a volunteer fireman, a restaurant chef, and a volunteer in a shelter for the homeless.
In 1981, at the age of twenty-seven, while working as a chef in London, Ireland met his first wife, Virginia Zammit, at a lecture on survivalism, a topic in which he had been interested for some years. Its topic - how to survive in a hostile environment by using your strength and wits — obviously resonated with him. He enjoyed going camping in marshes and woods, and eventually joined the Southern Rangers survival group, where he and the other members learnt how to survive off the land by killing animals and eating berries.
At thirty-six, Virginia Zammitt was nine years older than Ireland when they met, and she had a five-year-old daughter. They married in 1982 and initially were very happy together. Virginia had been paralysed at the age of twenty-four in a road accident, and remembers that Ireland saw me as the person I was - the person inside rather then somebody in a wheelchair." She said that "there were so many good things about him": he would spend hours playing with her young daughter, whom he adored, and helped the children at her school with their reading and art. On the Holloway estate on which they lived he was known as "the Gentle Giant." Nevertheless as Ireland was deeply unstable, the harmony was not destined to last, and Virginia soon tired of her husband's frequent prison sentences and increasing aggression. In 1987, after Ireland had an affair with another woman, they were divorced.
Two years later, in 1989, Ireland met Janet Young at the Globe, a pub in Buckfast, Devon, where she was landlady. Within a week Ireland had moved into the pub with Jan and her eleven and thirteen-year-old children. Three months later they were married at Newton Abbot Register Office. After just four months of marriage, Ireland drove his wife and her children to Jan's mother's house in Margate, and then disappeared, taking with him Jan's car, some money from the pub, and their joint bank account.
After the collapse of his second marriage, in 1991 Ireland moved to Southend-on-Sea in Essex, where he began work in a shelter for homeless people, despite the fact that he was homeless himself for much of this period. The manager there, Richard Higgs, remembers that Ireland was well liked by the guests, as he could empathize with their predicaments. However in December 1992, Higgs said that a "conspiracy" developed amongst some of the staff there that disliked Ireland. "All sorts of unfounded allegations were made against him and eventually he resigned. Colin was absolutely devastated." Unemployed again, Ireland went to an adult training centre where, according to Higgs, "He found himself breaking up wooden pallets. It was very demeaning. He was troubled, frustrated, and didn't know what to do with his life."
The Coleherne, a pub on the Brompton Road in West London, has a reputation amongst London's homosexual population as a likely place to find a partner for the night. The clientele wear colour-coded handkerchiefs depending upon their masochistic preference, submissive or dominant, to make cruising easy and to avoid misunderstanding. On 8 March 1993, Ireland was in the pub, playing the part of the "top" or Master. He later told police, "I went to the Coleherne that evening and I felt that if I was approached by one of the group that tended to trigger feelings in me - masochistic men - I felt there was a likelihood I would kill." This surprising indicator of the violence of his fantasy life — up until now Ireland had only committed minor offences — can only be explained by the slow escalation of his inner rage to the point where it could not longer be contained. Sadly, somebody did approach him, indirectly. Peter Walker, a 45-year-old choreographer who was working as an assistant director on the West End musical City of Angels, was a regular at the Coleherne. Walker made no secret of the fact that he was homosexual, nor that his sexual excitement was enhanced by being the submissive partner in an S&M relationship. Ireland and he met when Walker spilled his drink over Ireland by accident, and then begged to be chastised. Ireland needed no further invitation.