HM Prison Fenchurch riots
Year: 1983
Location: HM Prison Fenchurch, London
  • Metropolitan Police victory
  • Death of Sgt Viv James
  • Death and injury of many prisoners
  • The HM Prison Fenchurch riots were a series of revolts in the HM Prison Fenchurch over a period of two days in 1983, which resulted in the prison being taken over by the convicts. In an attempt to restore order, the police entered the prison, but were forced to evacuate due to the huge numbers of convicts. Several police officers were killed and Fenchurch East desk sergeant Viv James was taken hostage. It was CID's objective to rescue James (A2A Series 3: Episode 6).

    Before the riots[edit | edit source]

    In 1964, electrician Jason Sachs was arrested following the robbery and the burning down of a garage. 23-year-old PC Michael Stirling, who was first at the scene, attempted to arrest him, but Sachs cut the ligaments in the constable's legs and left him to die in the fire. When he was arrested, he was forced to serve a life sentence. By 1983, he had served 19 years.

    In 1980, DI Sam Tyler arrested conman Paul Thordy in Manchester shortly before his death. Eventually, Thordy was transferred to the Fenchurch prison where him and Sachs shared a cell together for eight months.

    In 1982, Jim Keats visited the HM Prison Fenchurch who was the chairman of a number of meetings between the prisoners' representative and the authorities for a week until negotiations broke down.

    In the C wing of the prison, Viv's imprisoned cousin Carl, who he adored, plotted the riot with Sachs so he could be released. Sachs promised if Viv could provide a certain gun during the riot, he would ask one of his cellmates to falsely confess to Carl's crime and allow him to be released from custody. Viv would be used as bait to threaten the police to release them.

    One day before the riot, Sgt James conducted an audit and signed out a gun as Chris Skelton which the DC regularly signed out.

    The First Riot[edit | edit source]

    In 1983, ten convicts led by 54 year old Sachs attacked the patrolling guards during prison exercise and released all the prisoners in D wing. Eventually all the guards of D wing had been taken down and all of the prisoners were away from their cells. For approximately four hours, convicts threw items such as bricks and toilet paper off the roof of the prison. The only convict that successfully escaped the rioting prison was Paul Thordy.

    Police Suppression Attempt[edit | edit source]

    The Metropolitan Police decided to respond to this by sending their riot control units into the prison; six from the nearby Fenchurch East police station including Sgt Viv James. The Fenchurch East units were led by DCI Gene Hunt who replaced an existing unit leader. The units were engaged in combat with the nearby prisoners but were outnumbered and many of the police officers were beaten to death as the remaining officers retreated from the prison. Among the dead officers was an unconscious Sgt James who was taken hostage by Sachs.

    Hostage Situation[edit | edit source]

    Negotiation Attempt[edit | edit source]

    The governers of the HM Prison made a wardens office inside the prison available to the Fenchurch East CID who set up an incident room to split operations between the prison and the CID division of the police station. While the prison wardens attempted to secure the wings, the CCTV of the prison was set up showing a captured Sgt James and Sachs who had acquired a gun from him. When Hunt threatened Sachs via the prison loudspeakers, Sachs shot the nearby prison CCTV cameras and DI Alex Drake attempted to negotiate with him but he threatened that if the police talked any longer they would kill Viv.

    Arrest of Paul Thordy[edit | edit source]

    During the same day Thordy was spotted in Croydon. Hunt sent DS Carling and DC Skelton to rearrest him. He attempted to escape through the back of a laundrette but was eventually stopped by Skelton. While being held in Fenchurch East police station, he was assaulted by Hunt in an attempt for Thordy to tell the truth about Sachs but he continuously lied. While in the cell the following day, DCI Hunt provided Thordy a plastic bag to help him commit suicide but failed. He was interviewed by Alex Drake who claimed he was Sam Tyler and stated that the first riot was a setup and not a protest.

    Talks with the Press and Hostage[edit | edit source]

    Jason Sachs and an undercover Chris Skelton.

    While inside prison, Sachs wanted to talk to the press regarding the riots. Carling and Skelton agreed to go undercover as a photographer and a journalist into the prison. In an attempt to separate the police from the journalists, Sachs showed Chris and Ray his "pig detecting machine" however, they broke their cover after discovering that it was a seriously injured Viv and were held hostage. A recorded tape was sent to CID with Sachs' threats and demands. Paul Thordy revealed to Drake and Hunt that the police who would raid the prison would "execute" the three hostages rather than the prisoners themselves by electrocution triggered by trip wires. While being held hostage, Sachs and his men were preparing to electrify the place that would kill the officers. When Viv attempted to kill Sachs, he was shot in the leg and forced to bleed. Before the police raided the prison, the three men were restrained to the electrified walls.

    DCI Keats leads the police into the prison.

    The Second Riot and the Death of Viv James[edit | edit source]

    DCI Keats had received authorisation from the Home Office to prepare a raid on the prison with Special Forces. As Keats and the Special Forces men prepared to enter the prison and trigger the electricity, DCI Hunt and DI Drake together destroyed the mains which allowed the police to enter. Together, the Special Forces and the riot control team engaged with the prisoners. Sgt Viv James had been taken by Sachs further into the prison which Gene Hunt followed. When he discovered Sachs, Hunt shot him so he would bleed to death. The first person to discover the dying Viv was DCI Keats who held him in his arms, and surreptitiously killed him. Gene Hunt then proceeded to try to revive Viv, in vain.

    Outcome[edit | edit source]

    Weeks later, Viv was mourned by his family and his colleagues at his funeral (A2A Series 3: Episode 7) and order was presumably restored to HM Prison Fenchurch. It is believed that he was descended into Hell by Keats (A2A Series 3: Episode 8).

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