Dr John Norris: GP who survived a kidnap ordeal

 

Twenty-five years of being a family doctor could hardly have prepared John Norris for the ordeal he went through on 30 July 1974. But his cool, calm personality saved his life and another man's.

A call to Witherington Farm outside Salisbury, Wiltshire, a few miles from his surgery at No 16 Harcourt Terrace in the city centre at four in the afternoon, was to leave the 51-year-old GP manacled by his hands and feet to the floor of a caravan, his head immovable beneath the sharpened blade of a home-made guillotine. At his side was a terrified social worker, Martin Mottram, also manacled and with his head beneath the lethal steel. In the caravan lived the man Mottram had in his care, Peter Wilson. Wilson had prepared the caravan for his attack with bolts, bars, weapons and explosive, then asked the social worker to pay him a visit, and having taken him prisoner, called the doctor.

Norris found himself on this, the day after his birthday, bludgeoned with a rifle-butt, knocked to the floor, stunned, gagged, and tied up before being dragged under the guillotine. As the two men lay helpless, Wilson alternately brooded and raved, setting out grievances against the social services and the health service. He had the power to behead them both at once at the touch of a cord, which he could operate from any corner of the caravan.

The two hostages learned from their captor as the long summer evening ticked on that the caravan was wired to explode, with a makeshift bomb using a Calor gas cylinder and electric wires only just held apart. If these were to touch, the spark would set off the gas and the caravan and its three occupants would be blown to pieces.

Wilson also kept his rifle loaded and had ammunition for an airgun. Behind the barred windows, and through a raised aperture he had cut in the caravan's roof, he could see police officers approaching as word of the incident spread. He could also see Norris's wife Joan, a GP at another practice in the city, who arrived hoping at least to alleviate the hostages' thirst and hunger with some oranges.

Mrs Norris threw the oranges in through the open upper half of a two-part door, which was becoming the focus of police efforts to resolve the crisis. The bottom part was held by a bolt, and Chief Superintendent Frank Lockyer, commander of the Wiltshire constabulary's southern division, spent some time surreptitiously trying to release this as he negotiated with Wilson. The bolt proved out of reach, and the door had, besides, been battened from the inside.

When Chief Supt Lockyer looked inside, putting his head over the door's edge to where he could see the guillotine and Norris could see him, Norris told him: "He's not joking, Frank."

During the night that followed the news of the siege was broadcast around the world. The experience was a new one for the police. "None of us had been trained as negotiators," Chief Supt Lockyer, since retired, explained. "We were all just country coppers."

Chief Supt Lockyer heard of a parson known to Wilson who might be able to help, and the RAF delivered the clergyman by helicopter from North Devon. Through the hours of darkness Lockyer and his officers, now surrounding the caravan, took the advice of a psychiatrist from Basingstoke. This was to keep Wilson awake and get him tired, while not getting tired themselves.

Lockyer, whose family doctor Norris was, persevered at the scene until 4am, when he decided he had better get some sleep, and handed over to Detective Chief Superintendent Harry Hull, specially brought from the Wiltshire police headquarters.

Through the night Norris had been working his way into Wilson's confidence, and saw the opportunity of offering more of the one thing Wilson wanted, which was publicity. The caravan contained a radio, and Wilson showed pleasure on hearing the BBC's bulletins describing what he had done. By 10am Dr Norris had persuaded his captor to let him out to put his grievances to those waiting there, who included the local and national press. Wilson took off the battens and unbolted the bottom half of the door.

In his moments of freedom, Norris agreed a plan with police officers while appearing to put Wilson's case. Then the doctor returned inside the caravan, letting Wilson believe he still retained control. Norris had a limp from a rugby injury at school, and wore a built-up shoe. Nevertheless with perfect timing he charged Wilson, pushing him out through the door and into the arms of the police.

For his exemplary bravery in returning inside the caravan, Norris was awarded a new decoration instituted that same year, the Queen's Gallantry Medal, which he received at Buckingham Palace in August 1975.

A lasting legacy of the siege was a lifelong friendship between Norris and Lockyer, who woke from his snatched slumbers to find the nightmare situation resolved. "The incident had no after-effects on him," Lockyer said of Norris."He was a very balanced character, very calm. He didn't panic."

Norris's son William, who had been in London and had learned of the incident as it happened when he read the Evening Standard newspaper. "He was very proud," he recalled.

Wilson, whom Lockyer described as "a very sick man, not a criminal", was sent to Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital. Norris resumed his quiet pace of life as a GP in the cathedral city, supporting causes including the Red Cross until he and his wife retired from medical practice in the 1980s.

Only from the doctor's favourite hobby, sailing, might a stranger have deduced his deep draught of courage and resourcefulness. The Royal Cruising Club elected Norris a member, and he spent many holidays taking his yacht out from Poole or Lymington. With his family on board, he enjoyed the challenge of crossing the Channel to Brittany or negotiating the West country coast.

John Norris was born in Taunton, Somerset, and educated at Queen's College before studying medicine at Bristol University. He became president of the Students' Union and met his future wife, Joan. They qualified as GPs and in 1949 married at Bemerton Church, Salisbury, moving to the city to be near Joan's parents, who ran the Mill Race Hotel. Joan died in 2004, and Norris married Barbara Hare.

Anne Keleny

John Phillips Norris, general practitioner: born Taunton, Somerset, 29 July 1923; Queen's Gallantry Medal 1975; married 1949 Joan Barnes (died 2004; two sons), 2005 Barbara Hare; died Salisbury 28 November 2012.

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players