Ronnie Biggs: Great Train Robber dies aged 84

Ronnie Biggs

He spent 36 years on the run after £2.6m heist, but returned to UK to buy a pint at a Margate pub

LAST UPDATED AT 09:05 ON Wed 18 Dec 2013

RONNIE BIGGS, the criminal who found fame as a member of the gang that carried out the Great Train Robbery, has died at the age of 84.

Biggs, who died overnight of a long illness, was a key member of the gang that stole £2.6 million from the train as it passed through the Buckinghamshire countryside in the early hours of 8 August, 1963. Arrested and jailed for 30 years, he escaped after only 15 months in prison and went on the run.

Biggs evaded capture for 36 years, living mostly in Australia and Brazil. He returned to the UK, penniless and in poor health, in 2001 where he served a further eight years of his original sentence.

Explaining his decision to return to the UK he said: "I am a sick man. My last wish is to walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter."

His last public appearance was in March when he attended the London funeral of Bruce Reynolds, the man who masterminded the audacious robbery. True to form, Biggs gave photographers a defiant two-fingered salute from his wheelchair.

The Daily Telegraph says Biggs voiced some regrets about his life as a criminal when he was released from prison in 2009. While he declared himself “proud” to have been a member of the Great Train Robbery gang, he said he regretted the injury of the train driver, Jack Mills, who was hit with an iron bar.

Mills never worked again or recovered from his injuries, the paper says. He died seven years later.

Said Biggs: "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."

The Daily Mirror says Biggs' elevated standing in the criminal world owed more to his "status as a notorious fugitive than his prowess as a villain".

The paper adds that Biggs always appeared to relish his notoriety, a status enhanced in 1978 when he recorded a song called No One is Innocent with the Sex Pistols.

The Guardian says the most flattering epitaph for Biggs was written for him "many years ago" by an unlikely figure: the former commissioner of the Metropolitan police Sir Robert Mark. He wrote in his memoirs that Biggs had "added a rare and welcome touch of humour" to the history of crime and suggested that his time in Brazil meant that he was the most memorable figure to undergo banishment since Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, in 1398. · 

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I met Ronnie Biggs with his son on Ipanema beach in Rio around 1984. His son had a hit record in the Brazil charts. He made money by doing interviews and photos. But he was lucky to be there - a great place - and he was well settled. But like a lot of expats, he returned to the UK for our free health care.

Should have died in jail.

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