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Europe

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs dies aged 84

© AFP

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2013-12-18

Legendary Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, who escaped from a London prison and spent 36 years on the run from the British authorities, has died aged 84, his spokesperson announced on Wednesday.

"Sadly we lost Ron during the night. As always, his timing was perfect to the end. Keep him and his family in your thoughts,” the Twitter account that publicises his website and autobiography posted.

Biggs was to become the best-known member of a gang that robbed the Glasgow to London mail train in 1963, making off with £2.6 million, worth around £40 million today (48 million euros). The bulk of the cash was never recovered.

Biggs’s role in the heist was to find a driver for the train. In the event, the replacement driver had difficulties handling the locomotive, and the legitimate driver was beaten with iron bars until he moved the train himself. He died seven years later.

The minutely planned robbery was a spectacular success, and Biggs, then aged 34, took a £147,000 share of the loot.

But most of the members of the 15-man-gang were soon rounded up by the police, and Biggs was sentenced to 30 years’ in prison. He would serve just 15 months of his sentence.

Biggs’s great escape

On July 8, 1965, prisoners in the exercise yard at Wandsworth Prison in London created a diversion that allowed Biggs to scale a rope ladder over a wall, drop onto a waiting van and make his dramatic escape.

His first stop was Paris, where he underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance. He then travelled to Australia where he was joined by his wife Charmian and his sons.

Biggs records 'No One is Inncocent' with the Sex Pistols

Biggs then moved to Brazil and settled in Rio. In 1974 he was tracked down by a reporter for British newspaper the Daily Express, and Scotland Yard began a series of abortive attempts to have him extradited to the UK.

Four years later Biggs, by now living a playboy lifestyle in Rio, made a record with British punk rock group the Sex Pistols titled “No One Is Innocent”, a song that was immortalised in the 1980 mockumentary film about the band “The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle”.

In 1981, a group of ex-British Army bounty hunters kidnapped Biggs and took him by boat to Barbados, hoping to secure a reward by bringing him back to Britain. The Barbados authorities, however, ruled that extradition laws had not been properly applied and Biggs was allowed to return to Rio.

‘Last wish’ for a ‘pint of bitter’ in Margate

Out of cash and in increasingly poor health, Biggs told The Sun newspaper in 2001 that he was prepared to return to Britain to serve the remainder of his 28-year sentence.

"I am a sick man," Biggs told the Sun in an interview conducted on paper through his son Michael. "My last wish is to walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter."

His flight was paid for by the newspaper, which gave his family £20,000 for exclusive rights to the story.

He was arrested as soon as he landed, was in court the same day and sent immediately to the high-security Belmarsh Prison.

Biggs’s health continued to deteriorate, but an appeal for his release in 2003 was denied. In 2007 he was transferred to Norwich Prison.

By 2009 Biggs, who had suffered three strokes, was almost wholly incapacitated and was unable to speak or get out of bed. He was released on compassionate grounds in August of that year, just before his 80th birthday.

Biggs divorced wife Charmian in 1976, and married Raimunda de Castro in 2002. He is survived by De Castro and sons Christopher, Farley Paul and Michael.

Date created : 2013-12-18

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