LONDON, December 19: Unrepentant till the last, the British criminal Ronnie Biggs who was part of a gang that participated in what came to be known as the Great Train Robbery, died at 84 in London on Wednesday.
He made off with £147,000 of the £ 2.6 million, stuffed into 120 bags, that the gang stole in a daring robbery on the Glasgow to London mail train on August 8, 1963. He was given a 30-year prison sentence but escaped from Wandsworth Prison in 1965 by climbing over the walls with a rope-ladder.
From then on he was on the run – first in Paris, and then in Australia and Brazil, from where he was arrested in 1974 by the British police.
Biggs fought and won his extradition case from Brazil on the grounds that he had a son from his Brazilian girlfriend.
He returned to England in 2001 seeking medical help but was sent to prison, from where he was released in 2009 on compassionate grounds.
While his autobiography – ghost-written by Christopher Pickard — presents a picture of himself as an irascible and loveable rogue and anti-hero, Biggs’ lifelong partnership with crime did not lack for violence.
During the robbery, Biggs attacked the train driver Jack Rider on the head with an iron bar, disabling him for life.
BBC quoted Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef who expressed sympathy for Biggs’ family but said: “We have always regarded Biggs as a nonentity and a criminal who took part in a violent robbery which resulted in the death of a train driver.”
The perceived glorification of Biggs has attracted much criticism online.
As one reader of an online site that splashed the Biggs story put it: “He was a nasty, arrogant criminal who should have been left to rot in a Brazilian hospital. This story is taking precedence over the death of a British doctor in Syria whose desire to do good led to his murder. I’m disgusted.”