Ronnie Biggs wins his freedom
With only a short time to live, the great train robber is released on compassion grounds
The 'great train robber' Ronnie Biggs has finally been given his freedom on the eve of an important day in his life. Saturday marks not only his 80th birthday but also the 46th anniversary of the robbery, in which he and his accomplices stole £2.6m (the equivalent of around £40m today) in used banknotes from the Glasgow to London mail train, sparking one the biggest police manhunts in post-war Britain.
The decision to release Biggs was made on "compassionate grounds" by Justice Minister Jack Straw after being informed that he is close to death in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
He is too ill to be moved, suffering from severe pneumonia. His freedom will be marked by the three prison staff who guard him simply slipping away from his bedside.
Straw took the decision having only recently denied Biggs parole because he remained "wholly unrepentant" about his crime. Straw sought to explain his apparent volte face when he said last night: "His condition is not expected to improve. It is for that reason that I am granting Mr Biggs compassionate release on medical grounds. I have therefore been satisfied that the relevant conditions have been met, which I was not in respect of the recommendation for parole."
Biggs's legal adviser, Giovanni Di Stefano, said: "He is being released effectively to die and that cannot be considered a victory. But it's a victory for common sense and Mr Straw has made the right decision."
Biggs already had 26 previous convictions when he and the gang of 15 criminals attacked the mail train on August 8 1963. After they were eventually caught, Biggs and other leading members of the gang received 30-year jail terms. The long sentences reflected the fact that the train driver, Jack Mills, was hit over the head with an iron bar during the attack, and was never able to work again.
Within 16 months of beginning his jail term at Wandsworth, Biggs escaped and remained on the run for 36 years, first in France, then Australia and finally Brazil. After being discovered living in Rio de Janeiro, he foiled the British authorities' plans to extradite him by fathering a child with his Brazilian girlfriend.
After a series of strokes, he eventually returned voluntarily to Britain in 2001, travelling home on a private jet laid on by the Sun newspaper. He had hoped to be given his freedom on medical grounds - but until now, his pleas brought little sympathy from the government, and he has remained either in jail or hospital. ·
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