News World Ronnie Biggs dead at 84

Ronnie Biggs dead at 84

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English criminal Ronnie Biggs, famous for his role in the Great Train Robbery in 1963, has died aged 84.

Biggs, who spent 35 years on the run, won notoriety and some popularity for his ingenuity in evading capture and for cheekily thumbing his nose at the law from sun-soaked beaches.

The infamous Great Train Robbery saw a 15-strong gang hold up a Glasgow to London mail train and make off with 2.6 million pounds, a huge sum at the time, at a railway bridge north of London.

The celebrity fugitive played a minor role in the hold-up but was jailed for 30 years in 1964.

After 15 months, he escaped by scaling a prison wall and leaping on to the roof of a furniture van.

His three decades on the run took him to France, Spain and Australia before he settled in Brazil where he flaunted his freedom by frequently being pictured in British newspapers partying.

Biggs returned to the United Kingdom in 2001 to seek medical treatment and was arrested and jailed.

He was released from prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds after suffering pneumonia from which he was not expected to recover.

Biggs had suffered a series of strokes in recent years and was, at the time of his death, being cared for in a home in north London, according to the Press Association and Sky News, who reported his death quoting unnamed sources.

Biggs netted 143,000 pounds for his role in robbery – 40,000 pounds of which he spent on plastic surgery in France, where he bought forged documents that he used to fly to Sydney in 1966.

His wife Charmian and sons Nicholas and Chris joined Biggs in Australia, where his third son Farely was born.

Fearing that police were closing in on him, Biggs fled on a passenger liner to Panama in 1969 before making his way to Brazil.

UK detectives travelled to Brazil in 1974 in the hope of catching him, but they were thwarted because Biggs by then had his son, Michael, with his Brazilian girlfriend Raimunda Rothen, making him legally untouchable.

He released a single with the Sex Pistols in 1978 after lead singer Johnny Rotten had left the band.

In April 1981, Biggs was kidnapped by a gang of British ex-soldiers, who were hoping to collect a reward from the British police.

But the boat they took him aboard suffered mechanical problems off Barbados, and the stranded kidnappers and Biggs were rescued by the Barbados coastguard.

Barbados had no extradition treaty with the UK and Biggs was sent back to Brazil.

Biggs returned to the UK in 2001 with the help of the British tabloid The Sun, which paid for his flight and announced his return.

He was arrested upon his arrival and an appeal against the remainder of his jail sentence was dismissed.

Biggs married Raimunda while he was in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison in 2002.

He was transferred to a prison specially designed to harbour elderly inmates in 2007.

His son Michael had long campaigned for his release from prison.

“If this is the British legal system, it is appalling,” he said in 2009, insisting his father had “paid his debt to society”.

He described his father as being “totally incapacitated”, adding: “He cannot walk, he cannot talk, he cannot read or write, he cannot drink – how can he take any reoffending courses?”

On August 8, 1963, a gang of 15 robbers and a retired train driver stopped a Royal Mail train at the Bridego Railway Bridge in Buckinghamshire, about 60 kilometres north of London.

The train’s driver, Jack Mills, was severely beaten and never recovered – he died in 1970 from leukaemia.

According to Biggs’s biographers, the worst of the train robbers were never captured.

Tel Currie, the co-author of Ronnie Biggs: The Inside Story, told the ABC in 2009 that contrary to popular legend Biggs played only a small role in hijacking the train.

“He got in the train and he was useless because all the panels had changed and everything since he had been in a train,” he said.

“So they took him back out and Ronnie spent the rest of the time on a grass verge watching it happen.”

Co-biographer Mike Gray said the British government had wanted to punish Biggs for flaunting his escape while he was on the run.

“I think it goes back to – it was an indirect attack on the Queen,” he said in 2009.

“It was the Royal Mail, which in 1963 was seen as treason, and they were still hanging for it and they were made to pay.

“And because Ronnie escapes for 30 years, albeit he was a law abiding citizen, he was made to pay the price.”

Biggs was born in 1929 in the south London suburb of Stockwell.