LONDON: Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, whose audacious escape from jail and decades spent on the run made him one of Britain’s most notorious criminals, has died in London at the age of 84, the justice ministry said yesterday.
Biggs, who was unable to speak and could barely walk after suffering a series of strokes, was being cared for at a nursing home at the time of his death in the early hours yesterday, media reports said.
He was part of the gang which robbed a night mail train travelling from Glasgow to London on August 8, 1963 seizing £2.6m — a record at the time and the equivalent of £46m ($75m) today.
Sentenced to 30 years in jail, Biggs escaped from prison after just 15 months and went on the run to Australia and then Brazil. In Rio he had a son, Michael, with a Brazilian woman which ensured his immunity from extradition.
Michael Biggs was not immediately available for comment about his father’s death, but left a message on his phone saying: “For obvious reasons I’m not taking many calls today.”
Free from the long arm of the British law, Biggs appeared to revel in his notoriety, posing for pictures published in newspapers back home and cementing his folk hero status. Biggs returned to Britain voluntarily in 2001 when a number of strokes took the fun out of fugitive life and left him pining for home.
He was immediately sent back to jail to serve the end of his sentence but was released on compassionate grounds in 2009 because of his worsening health. He remained on parole. “The probation trust supervising him has confirmed that he has died,” a justice ministry spokeswoman said.
Biggs always said he had no regrets about his involvement in the heist, although he said it was “regrettable” that the train driver, Jack Mills, was hit during the robbery.
Mills never fully recovered and he died a few years later. Biggs was last seen in public in March at the London funeral of fellow Train Robber Bruce Reynolds, where he made a defiant “V” sign at the waiting media.