Stabbed jail guard re­lives riot ter­ror

Ex­clu­sive: Man who was stabbed and held hostage by in­mates tells of or­deal

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMIE ROSS

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

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