Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Britain set to free ‘Great Train Robber’

AFP , LONDON

Ronnie Biggs, known as the “Great Train Robber,” flashes the victory sign while presenting his autobiography Odd Man Out to the press in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in January 1994. British authorities were to release Biggs from prison yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Ronnie Biggs, notorious for his role in Britain’s 1963 Great Train Robbery and then 35 years as a celebrity fugitive, was to be released from custody yesterday, while his son said he was close to death.

British Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced on Thursday that 79-year-old Biggs, jailed in 2001 after giving himself up, was being released on compassionate grounds because his condition had deteriorated and was unlikely to improve.

Biggs is in a hospital under guard by prison officers in Norwich, England, with severe pneumonia. A series of strokes has also left him bedridden and unable to speak, eat or walk.

His son Michael, who had campaigned for his father’s release, said Biggs was nevertheless pleased by the government’s decision.

“I’ve just been able to spend some time with my father ... He is over the moon,” he told reporters outside the hospital late on Thursday, adding that his father had used a spelling board to give his reaction.

“Practically he’ll still be staying in hospital but it’s the feeling that not only my father but the family will have that it’s finished, and he will be able to die with some dignity. He will able to die as a free man,” he said.

The three prison service staff watching Biggs in hospital were set be withdrawn later yesterday, once the license for his release was finalized.

Michael Biggs said that he hoped his father would live long enough to see his 80th birthday today — 46 years to the day since the heist.

The infamous crime, dubbed the Great Train Robbery, saw a 15-strong gang hold up a Glasgow to London mail train and make off with £2.6 million (US4.4 million), a huge sum at the time, at a railway bridge north of London. Most of the cash was never found. The train driver, Jack Mills, was hit on the head during the robbery and died seven years later without ever making a full recovery.

Biggs played a minor role in the hold-up but was jailed for 30 years in 1964. He subsequently escaped by scaling a prison wall and jumping onto the roof of a furniture van.

On the run for decades, he fled to France, where he had plastic surgery, and Spain before heading to Australia. But he eventually settled in Brazil, where he was often pictured partying in British newspapers.

Biggs beat British extradition requests because he had a Brazilian dependant, his young son Michael, by his Brazilian girlfriend.

He nevertheless handed himself over to British authorities in 2001 amid a blaze of publicity. Biggs said his last wish was to enjoy a pint of beer in an English pub by the seaside before he died, but he was sent back to jail.

This story has been viewed 2387 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top