Police investigation into the Great Train Robbery is commemorated on 50th anniversary of infamous crime
Detectives who investigated the Great Train Robbery were praised for solving the ‘crime of the century – 50 years after the infamous heist took place.
Eighteen retired Buckinghamshire Constabulary investigators and backroom staff were reunited at Eynsham Hall in Witney, Oxfordshire.
They received commendations on the eve of the £2.6 million robbery’s 50th anniversary from Thames Valley Police chief constable Sara Thornton.
Twelve of the robbers were jailed for a combined total of more than 300 years after they stopped the Glasgow to Euston overnight mail train, which was carrying huge numbers of used bank notes, as it passed through the Buckinghamshire countryside close to Cheddington on August 8 1963.
Keith Milner, now 78, was the duty detective at Aylesbury on the night of the robbery.
Then aged 28, he was woken by a call at 5am letting him know there had been a burglary near Cheddington.
‘I said “what’s gone?” and they said “a train”,’ he explained last night.
‘An early call generally meant a long day and this was no exception. In those days we got dressed – suit, collar and tie – and off we went.’
After first collecting evidence on the railtrack, Mr Milner spent nine months attached to the investigation as the officer in charge of exhibits.
He was instrumental during the subsequent court case and worked shoulder to shoulder with Scotland Yard legends such as Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read, later responsible for bringing down the East End gangland empire ruled by the Kray twins.
John Woolley was a 25-year-old PC who had been on the job for four years when he discovered Leatherslade Farm, the abandoned hideout the men had used after committing their crime.
Now 75, he explained how he was sent to the property to investigate ‘suspicious comings and goings’ after police received a tip off.
Among items officers found at the scene was a Monopoly set which the robbers had used to kill time, playing with real £5 notes taken from their loot.
The original board game was on display last night at the commendation ceremony after it was discovered by TV’s Antiques Roadshow.
‘I just happened to be at that place at that time,’ Mr Woolley said at the ceremony.
‘What I did any of my colleagues could and would have done and perhaps done better.’
Asked about robber Ronnie Biggs, the former policeman said: ‘He is perhaps one of the robbers who got some enjoyment, some satisfaction, out of his share of the loot.
‘He did, for a while, live the high life in Brazil, no doubt about that.
‘But he was finally arrested, he is now a very sick man and I’m surprised that he is making all these comments after we have been told time and time again that he is hardly able to speak.
‘Good luck to him, but he is a sick man.
‘Me? I’m still surviving, I shall be going home tonight to my home to my supper – he won’t.’
Mr Woolley also said he had been saddened to learn of Reynolds’ death and recalled how the criminal mastermind had even sent him a Christmas card one year.
Chief Constable Thornton said: ‘The coverage in the newspapers and the discussion is always about the offenders in this notorious crime.
‘I wanted to balance that by thanking the police officers and police staff who played a very important role in making sure that those men were brought to justice 50 years ago.’
No regrets: Ronnie Biggs, whose Interpol notice is pictured (left) said recently that his only regret in connection with the robbery is that train driver Jack Mills (right) and the families of those involved suffered
Two of the robbers, Charlie Wilson and most famously Biggs, escaped jail, with Biggs spending more than 30 years on the run after returning to Britain in 2001 to face arrest.
He was eventually freed in 2009 on ‘compassionate grounds’ by then Justice Secretary Jack Straw.
The mastermind behind the gang, Bruce Reynolds fled to Mexico and later Canada following the crime but returned to the UK and was jailed for 25 years in 1968.
He served 10 years before his release and died back in February.
Two police officers who were involved in the investigation will attend tonight’s event alongside serving Thames Valley Police officers at Eynsham Hall in Witney, Oxfordshire.
Keith Milner was a detective at Aylesbury at the time of the robbery, while John Woolley was a PC and discovered Leatherslade Farm, where the men hid after committing the crime.
Last month Biggs insisted he was proud to have been part of the gang.
He is currently being cared for in a north London nursing home and said he has few regrets about the crime that made him a household name.
Biggs, who cannot speak and communicates through a spelling board, said: ‘If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the train robbers, my answer is, “No!”.
‘I will go further: I am proud to have been one of them. I am equally happy to be described as the “tea-boy” or “The Brain”.
‘I was there that August night and that is what counts. I am one of the few witnesses – living or dead – to what was The Crime of the Century.’
But although he is proud to have been involved in the headline-grabbing crime, he admitted he does have some regrets.
‘It is regrettable, as I have said many times, that the train driver was injured,’ he said. ‘And he was not the only victim.
‘The people who paid the heaviest price for the Great Train Robbery are the families. The families of everyone involved in the Great Train Robbery, and from both sides of the track.
‘All have paid a price for our collective involvement in the robbery. A very heavy price, in the case of my family.
‘For that, I do have my regrets.’
A new book has been published to mark the 50th anniversary – The Great Train Robbery – 50th Anniversary – 1963-2103, and is said to explain first-hand the complete story of the robbery.
Both Biggs and Reynolds, who died in February, contributed to the book, which has been written by Reynolds’ son Nick, along with Biggs’ autobiographer Chris Pickard.
Mr Reynolds and Mr Pickard said the book was an aim at ‘setting the record straight’, and putting right any inaccuracies in a tale that has become folklore.