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Obituary: Ronnie Biggs


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British criminal Ronnie Biggs, most famously known for his part in the Great Train Robbery in 1963, has died aged 84.

Ronnie BiggsHe was part of the fifteen-man gang that orchestrated the robbery of a Glasgow to London mail train on 8th August 1963, escaping with £2.6m (worth around £50m in today’s money). His infamous celebrity status came much later when he was on the run from the authorities, consistently finding legal loopholes around the world to avoid arrest.

Ronald Arthur Biggs, born in South London on the 8th August 1929, spent much of World War Two as an evacuee in Cornwall, before entering a career in petty thieving. He found himself being dishonourably discharged from the RAF after two years for breaking into a chemist’s shop, before going on to steal a car a month later. At 21, he took part in a bungled raid on a bookie’s office.

Biggs approached Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind behind the scandal, for a loan, only to find he had the planning of an elaborate train robbery in mind. Despite being the most well-known of members, Biggs only played a relatively small role in the robbery itself. He was responsible for recruiting a retired train driver to take the controls, but things didn’t go to plan when the driver was unable to make the newer train operate. The two of them were sent off to the waiting truck to help unload cash-filled mailbags instead, and the real driver was hit over the head with an iron bar before being asked to rendezvous with the getaway lorries.

Biggs was arrested three weeks later when his fingerprints were found on a ketchup bottle at their hideout, Leatherslade Farm.

Biggs’ notoriety increased substantially over the proceeding years. He broke out of Wandsworth prison after just 14 months by scaling the wall with a home-made rope ladder. He fled to Paris and Australia, and began spending his £143,000 share of the loot on plastic surgery. After police began making enquiries, he moved onwards to Brazil on a false passport. He constantly courted the British police and media, transforming himself into an infamous celebrity. He found a whole range of legal loopholes, and used these to his advantage to avoid arrest.

Suffering from ill health, he gave himself up to police in 2001 after 13,068 days on the run. In a private wedding ceremony in prison, Biggs married a Brazilian stripper, Raimunda, who he’d met several years earlier.

Biggs was granted “compassionate release” by Jack Straw in 2009, and spent the last four years of his life suffering from ill-health.

Two dramas – A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale – are scheduled to air on BBC1 on Wednesday and Thursday night.

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