Stabbed jail guard relives riot terror
Exclusive: Man who was stabbed and held hostage by inmates tells of ordeal
A PRISON guard stabbed four times by prisoners as they seized control of a north-east jail has broken his silence for the first time.
Bill Florence was patrolling Peterhead Prison when he was grabbed by cons and stabbed with a knife they had made themselves.
He was also beaten up – with his leg and collarbone broken – after being locked in a cell with another guard.
And last night, 30 years on from the riots, he admitted the thought of forgiving the men has never crossed his mind.
Now 72, the former guard said that he vividly remembers the ordeal – and revealed his family were hounded out of the area in the aftermath.
A prison guard stabbed four times in the Peterhead Prison riots has broken his silence.
Bill Florence was on patrol on September 28, 1987 when, without warning, 50 inmates overpowered him and colleagues – taking control of the jail for five days.
The father-of-two has never publicly spoken about the terrifying ordeal, but his daughter Laura decided it was time to shine a light on her “hero” and encouraged him to speak out on the 30th anniversary of the riots.
Last night, Mr Florence admitted the memory of what happened over the four days he was kept captive has stuck with him. He had been patrolling the Victorian-era prison when they rushed him during the night.
The 72-year-old, who now lives near Dumfries, had only started working in Peterhead two years before and had moved his young family up from Barlinnie where he had previously been stationed.
He said: “What happened that Monday night came out of the blue. There had been tension in the halls for two or three days, but no one expected that.
“I was on the top gallery when it kicked off and when I realised what was happening I told my colleague to get out as quick as he could. I tried to do the same, but I was grabbed.”
The inmates stabbed Mr Florence, took his keys and radio and then threw him in a cell to await his fate. Thirty minutes passed before the door finally opened again, when the prisoners bundled fellow guard Jackie Stuart into the same cell.
“It wasn’t long after that when four of them came in wearing hoods and just started laying into us,” Mr Florence added.
“Things carried on from there. Over the next couple of days we were moved between cells and they were making demands, and they had barricaded the whole place up.
“In total, I got stabbed four times on the body by a knife they had made up themselves. It gave the other cons a fright, because I was of no use to them dead. It probably looked worse than it was to them, but I had a broken leg and collar bone at this time as well.”
Mr Florence’s injuries became such a worry for the prisoners in the end that they eventually had to release him for treatment.
Throughout the ordeal, his daughter Laura, six, and Gemma, two, knew nothing about it. His wife, however, had been told about the incident by the arrival of police officers at the family home and a phone call from the prison.
She was later hounded by former inmates ahead of a trial involving the men who had rioted – prompting the family to leave the north-east.
“My wife, Joan, went through a lot,” Mr Florence said. “They had taken me to the hospital in Peterhead and my wife had been allowed to come in. She just took one look at me and collapsed. I came home the next day, when Jackie was released.
“But we eventually had to move away from Peterhead. Prior to the trial my wife was getting phone calls to the house from people saying they had watched her take my daughter to school – and that she should make sure I shouldn’t tell any lies in court.”
Mr Florence’s colleague, Mr Stuart, now 87, was only rescued when SAS troops stormed the cells to disperse the riot. He now acts as a tour guide at the prison museum.
The Peterhead Prison riots live on as one of the most infamous moments in the region’s history.
It was marred by smoke bombs and stun guns. The nation watched as British special forces stormed the siege.
And just three minutes after the surprise attack the five-day uprising came to an abrupt end.
But for Bill Florence it is much more than a historical marker – it was the day his and his family’s lives changed forever.
For the first time in 30 years the former prison guard has exclusively broken his silence. Stabbed and beaten he endured four days as a hostage.
For him closure did not come with rescue. His living reality now takes the form of historical photographs hanging on the walls of the former prison. It is easy to get swept away by the drama of the images.
But one must remember that amid the chaos is a man who endured, rebuilt and went back to work.
And now three decades later, despite the heaviness of the scars, he has yet to give up the fight.
WRECKED: The inside of Peterhead prison lies in ruins after the siege in 1987, which was ended by SAS troops
Joan and Bill Florence live near Dumfries