THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY-THE SECRET TAPES
On August 8 1963, a Royal Mail train was making its way to London from Glasgow. It was intercepted at Ledburn, Bucks by a gang of masked men who escaped with £2.6million, equivalent to at least £50million in today’s money. The incident would enter British folklore as ‘The Great Train Robbery’. The police took just a few weeks to find the gang members, arrest them and put them behind bars, and their work was hailed as the pinnacle of policing.
However, three months into a 30-year sentence, Ronnie Biggs, one of the gang members, escaped from Wandsworth prison and overnight became Britain’s most wanted man. The police and the establishment were left embarrassed, and ordinary people started to root for this antihero. The media rolled out the Biggs story like a soap opera – and he has rarely been out of the media ever since.
Despite his notoriety, the truth behind his escape has remained a mystery. Biggs has been involved with a number of heavily managed appearances and sensationalised interviews for the tabloid press. However, none of these has revealed anything new or got remotely close to finding out what Ronnie really got up to in his years in exile. Now, over four hours of previously unheard tapes recorded by ‘Daily Express’ journalist Colin Mackenzie – who tracked him down in Rio, Brazil in 1974 – reveal the real Ronnie Biggs for the first time.
BELOW IS A VERY BRIEF PICTORIAL INSIGHT INTO SOME OF THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBER – RONNIE BIGGS PERSONALLY SIGNED ITEMS HERE ON DISPLAY AT THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL .
AN OLD BUILDERS MERCHANT RECEIPT SIGNED BY RONNIE BIGGS WHILST COLLECTING SOME CHIPBOARD MATERIALS FOR A JOB HE PROBABLY NEVER FINISHED FOR TURBO MACHINES LTD. (WHO WERE BASED IN STATION ROAD , DORKING, SURREY ) DATED 28TH AUGUST 1963 , ONE WEEK BEFORE CAPTURE AND POLICE ARREST AND SOME 20 DAYS AFTER THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY TOOK PLACE . CLEARLY RONNIE BIGGS SIMPLY STAYED LOW KEY AND CARRIED ON HIS NORMAL GENERAL BUILDING ACTIVITIES .
HERE IS A PERSONAL PICTURE OF THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBER RONNIE BIGGS WITH ANDY JONES OF THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION WHEN WE RECENTLY VISITED RONNIE AT HIS NURSING HOME , HE IS STILL UNDER LICENCE WITH THE HOME OFFICE PRISON AUTHORITIES .
HERE AT THE JAIL THERE ARE SEVERAL EXHIBITS RELATING TO THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY FOR WHICH BRUCE REYNOLDS (THE MASTERMIND) AND RONNIE HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO OVER THE YEARS .
|Born||Ronald Arthur Biggs
8 August 1929 (age 82)
Lambeth, London, England, United Kingdom
|Penalty||30 years in prison|
|Status||Released on compassionate grounds|
|Spouse||Charmian Brent (1960 – ?)
Raimunda de Castro
(2002 – present)
Ronald Arthur “Ronnie” Biggs (born 8 August 1929) is an English criminal, known for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, for his escape from prison in 1965, for living as a fugitive for 36 years and for his various publicity stunts while in exile. In 2001, he voluntarily returned to the United Kingdom and spent several years in prison, where his health rapidly declined. On 6 August 2009, Biggs was released from prison on compassionate grounds.
Great Train Robbery
Biggs was born in the London Borough of Lambeth, England. In 1947, at age 18, he joined the RAF but was dishonorably discharged in 1949 for desertion, serving for only two years. In 1960, he married Charmian Brent, with whom he had three sons (one deceased). In 1963, Biggs participated in the Great Train Robbery. Together with other gang members, he stole £2.6 million from a mail train, the equivalent of around £40 million (US$67 million) today, after holding up a mail train from Glasgow to London in the early hours of the morning on 8 August 1963 (his 34th birthday). Jack Mills, the engine driver, was badly beaten with an iron bar in the course of the robbery. 11 of the 15-strong gang were jailed for the crime but Biggs was given the heaviest sentence because the judge “decided he was the brains behind the crime”, receiving concurrent sentences of 25 and 30 years. Biggs served 19 months before escaping from HM Prison Wandsworth on 7 July 1965 by scaling the wall with a homemade rope ladder and dropping on to a waiting removal van. He initially fled to Brussels via boat, then to Paris with his wife Charmian and two sons, Farley and Chris, where he acquired new identity papers and underwent plastic surgery.
In 1966, Biggs took a BOAC flight to Sydney, where he lived for several months before moving to the seaside suburb of Glenelg in Adelaide, South Australia. He was soon joined by his wife and two children. In 1967, just after their third child was born, Biggs received an anonymous letter from England telling him that Interpol suspected that he was in Australia and that he should relocate. In May 1967, the family moved to Melbourne, Victoria where he rented a house in the suburb of Blackburn North. In Melbourne, he had a number of jobs before undertaking set construction work at the Channel 9 TV studios. In October 1969, a newspaper report by a Reuters correspondent claimed that Biggs was living in Melbourne and that police were closing in on him. The story then led the 6 o’clock news at Channel 9, so Biggs immediately fled his home, staying with family friends in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Five months later, Biggs fled on a passenger liner from the Port of Melbourneusing the doctored passport of his friend. Biggs’ wife and sons stayed behind in Australia. Twenty days later, the ship berthed in Panama. Biggs disembarked and within two weeks flew to Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro
In 1970, when Biggs arrived in Rio, Brazil did not have an extradition treaty with the United Kingdom. In 1971, Biggs’ eldest son, Nicholas, aged 10, died in a car crash.
In 1974, Daily Express reporter Colin MacKenzie received information suggesting that Biggs was in Rio de Janeiro and a team consisting of MacKenzie, photographer Bill Lovelace and reporter Michael O’Flaherty confirmed this and broke the story. Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper arrived soon afterwards but Biggs could not be extradited because Biggs’ then girlfriend (Raimunda de Castro, anightclub dancer) was pregnant: Brazilian law at the time did not allow the parent of a Brazilian child to be extradited.
In April 1977 Biggs attended a drinks party on board the British frigate Danae, which was in Rio for a courtesy visit, but surprisingly he was not arrested. While for the time being safe from extradition, Bigg’s status as a known felon prevented him from working, visiting bars or being away from home after 10 pm. To supplement their income, Biggs’s family hosted barbecues at his home in Rio, where tourists could meet Biggs and hear him recount tales of his involvement in the Robbery (which was in fact minor). It was not just tourists, however. Biggs had heard that ex-footballer Stanley Matthewswas in Rio and invited him to his apartment. “We had tea on the small balcony at the rear of his home, and one of the first things he asked was, ‘How are Charlton Athletic doing?’ It turned out he had supported Charlton from being a small boy and had often seen me play at The Valley.” “Ronnie Biggs” mugs, coffee cups and T-shirts also appeared throughout Rio.
Biggs recorded vocals on two songs for The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, Julien Temple‘s film about the Sex Pistols. The basic tracks for “No One is Innocent” (aka “The Biggest Blow (A Punk Prayer)”) and “Belsen Was a Gas” were recorded with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook at a studio in Brazil shortly after the Sex Pistols’ final performance, with overdubs being added in an English studio at a later date. “No One is Innocent” was released as a single in the UK on 30 June 1978 and reached number 6 in the UK Singles Chart; the sleeve showing a British actor posing as Martin Bormann (Nazi Leader) playing bass with the group.
Following the extradition attempt, Biggs collaborated with Bruce Henry (an American double-bass player), Jaime Shields and Aureo de Souza to record Mailbag Blues, a musical narrative of his life that he intended to use as a movie soundtrack. This album was re-released in 2004 by whatmusic.com.
In 1981, Biggs was kidnapped by a gang of ex-British soldiers and smuggled into Barbados. The kidnappers hoped to collect a reward from the British police but Barbados had no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom and Biggs was sent back to Brazil. In February 2006, Channel 4 aired a documentary featuring dramatisations of the attempted kidnap and interviews with John Miller, the ex-British Army soldier who carried it out. The team was headed by security consultant Patrick King. In the documentary, King claimed that the kidnapping may have in fact been a deniable operation.
Biggs’ son by de Castro, Michael Biggs, eventually became a member of the successful children’s program and music band Turma do Balão Mágico, bringing a new source of income to his father. In a short time, however, the band faded into obscurity and dissolved, leaving father and son in financial difficulty again.
In 1991, Biggs sang vocals for the songs “Police On My Back” and “Carnival in Rio (Punk Was)” by German punk band Die Toten Hosen. In 1993, Biggs sang vocals in 3 tracks for the album “Bajo otra bandera” by Argentinian punk band Pilsen.
In 1997 the UK and Brazil ratified an extradition treaty. Two months later, the UK Government made a formal request to the Brazilian government for Bigg’s extradition. Biggs had stated that he would no longer oppose extradition. English lawyer Nigel Sangster QC travelled to Brazil to advise Biggs. The extradition request was rejected by Brazilian Supreme Court, giving Biggs the right to live in Brazil for the rest of his life.
Return to the UK
In 2001 Biggs announced to The Sun that he would be willing to return to the UK. Biggs was aware that he would be detained upon arrival in England and returned voluntarily on 7 May 2001, whereupon he was immediately arrested and re-imprisoned. His trip back to England on a private jet was paid for by The Sun, which reportedly paid Michael Biggs £20,000 plus other expenses in return for exclusive rights to the news story. Ronald Biggs had 28 years of his sentence left to serve. Since his return he has had a number of health problems, including two heart attacks. His son said in a press release that, contrary to some press reports, Biggs did not return to the UK simply to receive health care because health care was available in Brazil and Biggs had many friends and supporters who would certainly have contributed to any such expenses. Biggs’ stated desire was to “walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter“. John Mills, Jack Mills‘ son, was unforgiving: “I deeply resent those, including Biggs, who have made money from my father’s death. Biggs should serve his punishment.” Mills never fully recovered from his injuries sustained during the robbery. He died of an unrelated cause (leukaemia) in 1970.
On 14 November 2001, Biggs petitioned Governor Hynd of HMP Belmarsh for early release on compassionate grounds based on his poor health. He had been treated four times at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich in less than six months. His health was deteriorating rapidly and he asked to be released into the care of his son for his remaining days. The application was denied. On 10 August 2005, it was reported that Biggs had contracted MRSA. His representatives, seeking for his release on grounds of compassion, said that their client’s death was likely to be imminent. On 26 October 2005, the Home Secretary Charles Clarke declined his appeal stating that his illness was not terminal. Home Office compassion policy is to release prisoners with three months left to live. Biggs was claimed by his son Michael to need a tube for feeding and to have ‘difficulty’ speaking.
On 4 July 2007, Biggs was moved from Belmarsh prison to Norwich prison on compassionate grounds. In December 2007, Biggs issued a further appeal, from Norwich prison, asking to be released from jail to die with his family: “I am an old man and often wonder if I truly deserve the extent of my punishment. I have accepted it and only want freedom to die with my family and not in jail. I hope Mr.Straw decides to allow me to do that. I have been in jail for a long time and I want to die a free man. I am sorry for what happened. It has not been an easy ride over the years. Even in Brazil I was a prisoner of my own making. There is no honour to being known as a Great Train Robber. My life has been wasted.”
In January 2009, after a series of strokes that were said to have rendered him unable to speak or walk, it was claimed in the press that Biggs was to be released in August 2009 and would die a ‘free man’. His son Michael has also claimed that the Parole Board might bring the release date forward to July 2009. On 13 February 2009, it was reported that Biggs had been taken to hospital from his cell at Norwich Prison, suffering from pneumonia. This was confirmed the following day by his son Michael, who said Biggs had serious pneumonia but was stable. News of his condition prompted fresh calls from his son Michael Biggs for his release on compassionate grounds.
On 23 April the Parole Board recommended that Biggs be released on 4 July, having served a third of his 30-year sentence. However, on 1 July Jack Straw did not accept the Parole Board’s recommendation and refused parole, stating that Biggs was ‘wholly unrepentant’. On 28 July 2009, Biggs was readmitted to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital with pneumonia. He had been admitted to the same hospital a month earlier with a chest infection and a fractured hip but returned to prison on 17 July 2009. His son Michael said, in one of his frequent news releases: “It’s the worst he’s ever been. The doctors have just told me to rush there.”
On 30 July 2009, it was claimed by representatives of Biggs that he had been given ‘permission’ to challenge the decision to refuse him parole. However, the Home Office stated only that an application for the early release on compassionate grounds of a prisoner at HMP Norwich had been received by the public protection casework section in the National Offender Management Service. Biggs was released from custody on 6 August, the day before his 80th birthday, on ‘compassionate grounds’.
Following his release from prison, Biggs’ health improved, leading to suggestions that he might soon be moved from hospital to a nursing home. In response to claims that Biggs’s state of health had been faked, his lawyer stated, “This man is going to die, there is going to be no Lazarus coming back from the dead, he is ill, he is seriously ill.” However, Biggs himself stated, “I’ve got a bit of living to do yet. I might even surprise them all by lasting until Christmas, that would be fantastic.”
On 29 May 2010, Biggs was again admitted to hospital in London after complaining of chest pain. He underwent tests at Barnet General Hospital. His son Michael stated, “he’s conscious but he’s in a lot of pain”.
In August 2010, it was announced that Biggs would be attending a gala dinner where he would be collecting a lifetime achievement award for his services to crime.
On 10 February 2011, Biggs was admitted to Barnet General Hospital with another suspected stroke. His son Michael said he was conscious and preparing to have a CT scan and a series of other tests to determine what had happened.