Former Peterhead prison officer shares his riot story

Jackie Stuart with his book
Jackie Stuart with his book
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The prison officer taken hostage on the roof of Peterhead Prison in 1987 has shared his story in a new book –published 30 years after his terrifying five-day ordeal.

I met the man himself, Jackie Stuart, on a cold November morning at the place where it all unfolded.

The former prison is now a popular museum

The former prison is now a popular museum

Despite the cold outside, I received a very warm welcome from Jackie, who was dressed in his smart prison officer uniform – it almost looked as if he was raring to get back to work in the so-called ‘Hate Factory’.

Hostage on the Roof: My Peterhead Prison Story details the events of the Peterhead Prison Riot which started on Tuesday, September 29, 1987.

Jackie was held hostage in his own workplace for five days, having been stabbed and beaten by prisoners.

The former prison officer, who will turn 88 on Boxing Day, was encouraged to write a book about the events by staff at Score, despite his admission that “I couldn’t see a book in it, personally. I was just doing my job”.

It took a few months to piece the book together with Jackie providing the information to ghost writer, David Fleming, who managed to collate the the finished article.

It covers everything from Jackie’s early days as a youth in Aberdeen, meeting his future wife Betty and time spent in Malaysia as part of his National Service.

It then documents his return to the north east and his decision to join the prison service at the age of 35.

The book gives a fascinating insight into what life was like at Peterhead Prison – both the good and bad – before detailing the events of the infamous riot.

Prisoners took Jackie captive and threatened to end his life on numerous occasions.

Jackie was beaten with table legs and stabbed three times, something he didn’t realise at first due to the adrenaline running through his body.

The prisoners also filled his pockets with lighter fuel and threatened to set him alight.

He was paraded back and forth on the roof of Peterhead Prison – there was no escape as he had a chain around his neck and the ground was 60ft away.

His ordeal came to an end thanks to a call from then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to stage an SAS rescue.

Jackie returned to work after just six weeks, before retiring in 1990.

More than 1,100 copies of the book have been sold so far with some even making their way abroad.

Jackie said: “They have been sent to places as far as Australia – I’m flabbergasted because, as I said, I never thought there was a story in it.”

When asked about the decision to turn the former prison into a museum, Jackie said: “I always thought it should be open. I’m glad it’s been done and people can see what we had to put up with.”

Recalling the riot doesn’t seem to bother Jackie as he explained: “It’s all in the past; it’s 30 years now.”

He even joked that his late wife Betty spurred the prisoners on as he said: “She was down below shouting ‘Throw him off!’

“It was actually her birthday the next day so I said they only put me there because I forgot to get her a gift – that would be the easiest option.”

These days Jackie can be found at the Peterhead Prison Museum, where he is happy to meet visitors and share his story.

“Most people ask why I came back, they can’t understand it,” he said. “But I’m very thrawn and determined. I’m enjoying it and it’s going so well.”

Facilities development co-ordinator at the Prison Museum, Alex Geddes, said: “Having Jackie with us at the museum is a huge bonus as visitors love to have a chat with him after they have had a tour and heard about the SAS raid.

“It’s been a real honour to get to know Jackie and his practical approach to life is an inspiration.

“Many officers faced similar trials and the museum is dedicated to all the brave staff that manned the prison from 1888 to 2013.

“However, the unique element of Jackie’s siege was the involvement of the SAS, the only time I believe they were used to end a domestic siege in mainland Britain.”

Hostage on the Roof: My Peterhead Prison Story is on sale at Peterhead Prison Museum’s shop (£9.99) where Jackie is also happy to sign copies. It can also be posted out. Simply call the Museum on 01779 482200 for more details.

Money from the book will go to the Respiratory Research Group at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.