GREAT TRAIN ROBBER Ronnie Biggs, whose escape from jail and decades spent on the run made him one of Britain’s most notorious criminals, died today at the age of 84, media reports said.
Biggs had suffered a series of strokes in recent years and was at the time of his death being cared for in a home in north London, according to the Press Association and Sky News, who reported his death quoting unnamed sources.
Great Train Robbery
The coaches of the train involved in the 2.5 million mail robbery – the “Great Train Robbery”. Pic: PA/PA Archive
The gang stole the equivalent of £45 million (€52 million) in today’s money from a mail train travelling from Glasgow to London 50 years ago.
The crime itself was audacious enough, but it was Biggs’ 36 years on the run and his high-profile new life in Brazil which propelled him to fame.
He escaped from prison in 1965 and was finally arrested and thrown back in jail in 2001 on his voluntary return to Britain.
While the train robbers’ exploits have passed into folklore, many people deplore the almost forgotten fate of the driver, Jack Mills.
He was coshed over the head by another member of the gang, never recovered from his head injuries and died seven years later.
The driver had stopped the train at a remote bridge at Ledburn in Buckinghamshire, northwest of London, after seeing a red signal – but it was fake, created using a glove and a battery-powered light.
Once Mills was incapacitated, the gang uncoupled the engine and the first two carriages and a human chain of robbers removed 120 sacks containing 2.5 tonnes of cash.
The crew left in the rest of the train did not realise anything had happened until it was too late.
But the plan unravelled when the gang members abandoned plans to lie low for several weeks and instead fled from the farmhouse they had rented. The police, tipped off by a neighbour, rounded up many of them.
Nine of the 16 involved went on trial in 1964 and each was given 30 years in jail, although most did not serve out the whole sentence.
Biggs escaped from London’s Wandsworth prison in a furniture van 15 months later. He fled to continental Europe in a boat then underwent plastic surgery in Paris.
He spent four years on the run in Australia but fled again to Brazil in 1970. He was tracked down but could not be extradited as he had fathered a Brazilian child.
From his base in Rio de Janeiro he taunted the British police, aided by the British tabloids who lapped up his roguish tales.
When he voluntarily returned to Britain in May 2001, he was re-imprisoned before being released on compassionate grounds in 2009.