CREGAN SCARED BY JAIL RETURN; Cop killer fears other lags after move from hospital; EXCLUSIVE.
COP killer Dale Cregan is terrified of being sent back to Strangeways - because he fears he will be killed by prisoners much tougher than he is. The one-eyed drug lord, who gunned down PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, is on his way back to the infamous maximum-security nick after a medical ruling.
Experts decided the 34-year-old selfstyled Mr Big is well enough to return to the mainstream prison system from the secure hospital where he has spent four cushy years.
But he is desperately trying to convince experts he remains criminally insane as he fears attacks from fellow lags once back behind bars.
A source said: "When Cregan was first jailed he thought he was a big man.
"But he soon realised there were much tougher people in there than him.
"He was kept locked in his cell for most of the time, but even when he was allowed out he was scared of his own shadow.
He certainly wasn't the terrifying gangster he made out."
Justice chiefs are keen to return prisoners currently in hospitals to jails to reduce the pressures on budgets.
It costs PS300,000 a year to keep a prisoner in hospital compared to PS50,000 in jail.
Cregan was originally sent to Strangeways - officially HM Prison Manchester - after being convicted in 2013 of the murders of the two unarmed PCs. He had been given a whole-life tariff following a PS5million trial at Preston Crown Court.
The jail source added: "Cregan wasn't able to train inside and went from being muscular to flabby in no time. Then he developed an abscess on his face, which knocked his confidence even more as he thought it made him an easy target."
Cregan went on hunger strike and forced a move to Ashworth High Security Hospital in Merseyside.
While being treated as a patient he bragged about spending days in the gym, playing snooker and cooking pizzas.
Prison guards were furious over the transfer as they believed Cregan's claims to be insane were all an act.
The source added: "He pulled the wool over the doctors' eyes getting into Ashworth and now he is trying to do it again. Everyone in prison knew what he was up to when he got sectioned. He wasn't ill, he just realised he wasn't the toughest there and he couldn't handle it.
"He was scared of the other prisoners and what they might do to him."
Cregan murdered father-and-son gang rivals David and Mark Short, aged 46 and 23, in Manchester in 2012 before going on the run.
Six weeks later he lured unarmed police officers Fiona, 32, and Nicola, 23, to a bogus 999 call. The coward then fired more than 30 shots at the PCs before tossing a grenade at their bodies. A manhunt was launched but he later handed himself in to the station where they were based.
Transferring him back to jail will be a major security headache for top brass.
In 2014 he was taken to hospital surrounded by armed cops in a military-style operation. He is classed as a high risk over fears his friends may try to spring him, while his enemies want to kill him.
His victims Fiona and Nicola were posthumously given the first Women in Policing award from the Police Federation.
TRANSFER: Ashworth Hospital, victims Nicola, on left, and Fiona and tough top-security Strangeways jail