All hope seemed lost for a former Halifax man, horrifically burned as a baby. But it’s possible to rise out of the ashes. Virginia Mason reports
But the emotions he is feeling this time around are starkly different from those he experienced over two decades ago. For then, aged 29, he was contemplating suicide - throwing himself to his death below.
Horrifically scarred and disabled as the result of being burned in a house fire as a baby, in trouble with the police, in and out of care homes, stabbed in a gang fight and consumed by drugs, drink and gambling, it was hardly surprising he believed he had nothing to live for.
Today, now 52, he has turned his life around dramatically and his using the experiences of his tragic past to make a difference to the lives of others.
“I haven’t stood on this bridge since that day back in 1989 so it feels very strange, very strange indeed,” he says, walking steadily until he is sure he has found the exact spot.
“I felt then there was nothing left other than to jump but I remember the day clearly and I looked up from here, across to the flats at Boothtown and saw the light in my mother’s flat was on. I decided I go see her for one final time and then come back.”
But something happened in the flat to make him change his mind, he adds.
“I didn’t jump but in many senses this is where my life did finish. My old life ended and my new one began.”
Peter’s story has now been candidly told in his book, Out Of The Ashes, which makes compelling reading. It was launched internationally just days ago and has already caught the eye of an American film producer. As a result, Peter has given radio interviews and made an appearance on Sky TV and now a major tour will get under way which has essentially put Peter in the spotlight as a motivational speaker.
His story begins in a back to back, terrace house in Launceston Street, King Cross, Halifax, at just under a year old.
His mum, Mary had popped next door for a quick cuppa with a neighbour, leaving the young Peter on the hearth rug in front of the fire and his two older siblings playing.
A piece of coal rolled onto the hearth rug quickly setting the house ablaze. When his sister Annette, aged four, ran next door for help, the door slammed behind her, knocking the Yale latch of out position. Peter was trapped inside.
His injuries were horrific. He had 75 per cent burns on his legs and body, leaving visible scars today, including to the left side of his face and what remains of his left ear. Surgeons tied to save his burned limbs but ultimately had to amputate all his toes and part of each foot for about a quarter of its length. All the fingers of his left hand were taken off.
Years of painful skin grafts followed and it was only thanks to the skill of nurses and doctors at St Luke’s Hospital, Bradford, that he survived, Peter says.
“I do not blame my mum. I hold no bitterness,” he says softly. “I now understand the weight she had to carry. It was hard bringing up a family and it was at a time when my dad was out of work.
“She must have lived with the guilt of my injuries every day and I think my mum and dad blamed each other.”
Peter grew up with his injuries but never knew the truth about how they had been sustained. His school work fell behind because of frequent hospital visits and when he did attend he suffered cruel taunts.
“By the ages of eight, nine, 10 I had started to go off the rails. I was in trouble with police constantly for a number of petty thefts and my parents did not know what to do with me.”
And life did not improve as he grew older. In another cruel twist of fate, he was stabbed in a gang fight, effectively losing the use of his right arm and then he was the victim of a hit and run. He took refuge in drink, drugs and gambling before deciding enough was enough.
“I remember the walk to North Bridge that day because it was a bleak November morning. My dad had committed suicide, aged 52 and before he had died he had gone to church and confessed his sins.
“I wasn’t aware I was following in his footsteps but I was living in Siddal at the time and I left the house and started walking to St Mark’s. I tried the gates and they were locked and I thought ‘well even God doesn’t want me. I’m no use to anyone.’”
But standing on the bridge and looking to his mum’s flat, the light was like a beacon, he says.
“I got there and broke down and for the first time, she told me about how I had been burned. We just cried together before she rang my sister Annette and put her on the phone to me. Annette speaking to me was like someone pulling back the curtains in a darkened room and letting in the light. Suddenly I knew what I had to do.”
Peter explains that Annette encouraged him to attend church and as a result, his life began to get back on track.
In 1993, he started a two-year course at theological college, where he was astounded to find himself flourishing. It was here he met “a lovely Swiss girl, Sarah” who is now his wife - the couple have been married for 17 years now have three children.
After years of working in drug rehabilitation and as a probation office in Hampshire (he has even worked with the Government on a series of proposals dealing with young offenders), he now speaks about his experiences to help others. He was encouraged to tell his story by his fellow church members and began working on the book five years ago.
“I just hope that my story will act as a window of hope to others,” he says.
* Out of The Ashes is available at Fred Wade, Halifax and also from www.outofashes.co.uk where more details can also be found about booking Peter as a motivational speaker.