Ronnie Biggs - the Great Train Robber - to stay in jail (News Feature)
By Anna Tomforde Jul 1, 2009, 16:30 GMT
London - When he gave himself up to Scotland Yard detectives after 36 years on the run, Ronald (Ronnie) Biggs announced that his only wish was to down a pint of bitter in an English pub.
But his voluntary surrender in 2001 did not move the British authorities to grant The Great Train Robber his simple wish.
On Wednesday, more than 8 years on, the government refused to grant the ailing 79-year-old parole on the grounds that he was 'unrepentant.'
Biggs' poor health makes it unlikely that he will ever be able to visit his favourite pub in his home town of Margate, and makes his death in prison a near certainty.
His family had hoped that Biggs would spend his 80th birthday next month in freedom, united with them.
The reasoning given by British Justice Secretary Jack Straw for refusing parole, despite a recommendation to the contrary from the parole board, was littered with words smacking of bitterness and a sense of revenge.
Biggs, said Straw, would have been a 'free man many years ago' if he had not escaped from jail and chosen to serve his sentence. 'The legal system in this country deserves more respect than this,' said Straw.
The words reflect the deep-seated hurt felt by the British establishment over Biggs' spectacular prison escape in 1965, his success in evading capture for decades and the embarrassment he caused the authorities in the process.
Back in 1964, Biggs and 11 of his accomplices were given prison sentences totalling 307 years - the longest in British criminal history - for their audacious robbery of an overnight Glasgow-to-London mail train in August, 1963.
Their haul of 2.6 million pounds was a record at the time, but it was the scale and style of the heist that captivated Britain in an era that tended to make celebrities out of high profile criminals.
The gang, taking inspiration from the rail robberies of the Wild West, raided the train wearing ski masks and helmets, coshed its driver with an iron bar and made off with 120 bags of bank notes.
After having served just 15 months of a 30-year-prison term, Biggs escaped from Wandsworth prison in London by scaling a wall with a rope ladder and jumping onto an open-top furniture van. It had a mattress inside to break the fall.
He initially fled to Spain, with his wife Charmaine and two sons, where he underwent elaborate plastic surgery before moving to Australia.
When Scotland Yard tracked his hideaway there in 1970, Biggs escaped to Brazil, which had no extradition treaty with Britain.
In 1974, Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper, who spent his career trying to track Biggs down, arrested the fugitive in Rio. But once again Biggs was able to evade British justice.
This time he successfully argued against extradition because he had fathered a son, Michael, with his Brazilian nightclub stripper girlfriend, Raimunda Rothen, whom he later married in prison in Britain in 2002.
Slipper, who wrote a book about his attempts to put Biggs behind bars, admitted he had a sneaking admiration for him. 'I don't know if I'd go so far as to say I liked him after reading the book,' he said.
'But I admit he's a likeable character - the sort of person whose company I'd enjoy if we met, say on holiday.'
Biggs cheated arrest again in 1977 when he went on-board a British frigate - docked in Rio - for a drinks party.
Efforts by Britain to get him back finally ended in 1997 when the Brazilian authorities ruled that too many years had passed since the robbery for Biggs to be handed over.
On August 8, 1999, Biggs celebrated his 70th birthday with a poolside party in Brazil attended by a rogues' gallery of his infamous friends, including Bruce Reynolds, leader of the train robbers' gang.
When finances ran short Biggs used to raise money by selling T-shirts of himself to tourists and locals in Brazil.
He recorded No One is Innocent for punk rockers The Sex Pistols in 1978 and published an autobiography, Odd Man Out.
Even the film world got a piece of Biggs, when the Great Train Robbery was immortalised in the movie Buster, starring Phil Collins.