11 March 2012

In the Line of Duty: The Boggo Road Riots of 1986

The following is based on a letter I received from Tom King, a former prison superintendent. He was writing after two tragic events in 2012 - the devastating prison fire in Honduras, and the death of his former colleague Geoff Grant. Tom recalled the events that took place during a riot at Boggo Road in late 1986, and his letter is reproduced here with his permission. I accept that not everyone will agree with the version of events reproduced here.

Firefighters douse the flames in C Wing, Boggo Road, 1986.
Firefighters douse the flames in C Wing, Boggo Road, 1986. (BRGHS, Queensland Prisons collection)

"As the world’s media attention continues to focus on the tragic loss of 350 prisoners, who were abandoned by those responsible for their lawful confinement and safety, the most recent focus is concentrated upon the official who fled the prison, leaving the confined prisoners to suffocate or burn.

It is therefore now appropriate to reflect on the performance of several Queensland prison officers who responded with courage and commitment when confronted with a similar situation at Boggo Road Prison in 1986 when a widespread riot occurred at that prison.

It is timely to reflect that on the 22nd of February former officer Geoff Grant passed away without any recognition ever being afforded for his devotion to duty and courage to act, without question, during the 1986 riot.

At the time of the riot prisoners set fires in the kitchen, prisoners mess and adjacent areas and the acting superintendent at the time concluded that control of the prison had been lost to the prisoners and he called on the acting Commissioner of Police to deploy his officers to secure the perimeter and withdrew the prison officers from within the prison.

The officers manning the towers remained on their posts whilst four other officers remained within the prison to be in charge of the chief officer’s office and to prevent prisoner access to the key safes.

By this time the fire brigade personnel had arrived and starting to control the fires from the exterior of the prison walls. It was apparent the prisoners, some of whom had been locked in their cells immediately above the fires, were starting to panic because the heat and smoke was now close to them.

Two officers, namely Geoff Grant and John Collins, a medical/security officer, were asked by me if they were prepared to enter the danger zone and release those prisoners, who were in peril, from their cells.

It was then noted that prison officer Mick Kindness, officer in charge of H Wing, had remained at his post and so officers Grant and Collins were instructed to escort the endangered prisoners from C Wing to H Wing, where they were then locked in safe and secure cell accommodation.

On the walkway, Boggo Road Gaol, with the new women's prison and Buranda in the background.

I have made numerous attempts to have the bravery of the three officers mentioned recognised, but on each of those occasions my attempts have been frustrated, apparently because those then being in charge of the Queensland Prison Service lacked any appreciation of the incident. It was only on the return of Comptroller-General of Prison, Alex Lobban, to duty that a semblance of honesty prevailed.
Mr Lobban sent a letter of appreciation to those officers whom I had nominated for state awards, as well as those officers who had remained in the prison to safeguard the keys. Mr Lobban was apologetic that he was unable to redress what was in fact an incompetent, negative and self-serving report prepared by a then assistant to the Director-General of the department. Throughout and following upon the incident I found the then Acting Commissioner of Police to be a most honest and supportive individual and I believe that if justice is to prevail even in death, may Geoff Grant and survivors John Collins and Mick Kindness yet receive the recognition per medium of an uncompromised and honest investigation."

Tom King
24 February 2012

Riot damage to C Wing, Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane, 1986.
Riot damage, C Wing, 1986 (BRGHS, Queensland Prisons Collection)


  1. Thank you for sharing this Chris. It would seem that some branches of our public service have medals thrown at them, while others are ignored. A crying shame, in my own opinion. The photos you use here are excellent, could you tell us where are they from?

    Chris, please keep up up the good work on this very interesting blog. SoC

  2. Thanks SOC. I agree with you re the medals. The prison service was notoriously bad for recognising officers' outstanding service. The images are from the 'Queensland Prisons Collection' which is owned by the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society. We get things like this from ex-officers and others. the ones shown here are part of an extensive set of about 50 images from the 1986 riots.

  3. I received a short email from a former officer in relation to the above, and will reproduce it here:

    "During the 1986 riot the first to officers to get the master key and release the prisoners from the cages in c wing were good mates the late Geoff grant and one Cyril Cairns check the TV footage then were later joined by J Collins."

  4. Maybe these medals where never deserved because the cover ups and beatings that prison guards allowed and participated in is shocking, there is nothing to be proud off.

    17 year old boys bashed and raped while prison officers watched and laughed, a disgusting and disgraceful act by prison officers.

    These prison officers treated prisoners like shit, and yet you all broke the law and you all should face punishment.

    Human Rights Activist

  5. Thanks Jessica. Well, that's what the history of Boggo Road is all about. Everyone has their own memories of the place, from one extreme to the other and everything in between, and to be fair the history has to tell all those stories. However, there were all kinds of people in that prison on both sides of the bars and tarring all officers with the same brush is unfair. I know ex-prisoners who have fought the system and said the same as you (and worse) but there's other officers they still have a lot of respect for and happily socialise with even now.

    (I should add that I was never a prison officer).

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