British train robber, Ronnie Biggs, has died aged 84. A controversial figure to the end Ronnie was admired by some, in spite of his criminal background. His life and criminal activity has been the subject of many documentaries and drama and even movies but, when all-is-said and done, he was just a criminal, wasn't he?
Biggs, a petty criminal, hit the big-time as part of a 15-strong gang of robbers who raided a British Royal Mail train in 1963. He claimed his share of the haul was £147,000, which was a great deal of money in the sixties. The gang netted £2.6m from the Glasgow to London mail train on August 8, 1963.
The 15-strong gang of thieves interfered with line signals, in what was a well thought plan. They struck as the train reached Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, in England.
The gang did not carry guns but in the robbery train driver, Jack Mills, was beaten around the head with a metal bar. He sustained wounds which ended his career.
Mills' wounds, plus the fact that it was a robbery on a London mail train led to an intense police investigation and stiff sentences for those caught, tried and found guilty.
Ronnie Biggs received a 30-year jail term and the story may have ended there but he escaped prison and went on the run. Biggs served 15 months in Wandsworth Prison but on July 8 1965 he escaped by scaling the wall of the prison with a rope ladder and dropping on to a waiting removal van.
First stop was Brussels, which he reached by boat, then Paris, traveling with his wife Charmian and two sons, Nicholas and Chris. Here he acquired new identity papers and underwent plastic surgery.
However, the British establishment and criminal investigators pursued him to the bitter end.
Ronnie and Charmian split as the net tightened whilst they were living in Australia and Biggs hot-footed it to Brazil, a country with no extradition treaty with the UK.
He made a new life, fathering a child, which also prevented his removal back to the UK. Britain was not ready to give up on Biggs though and in 1997, two months after the UK and Brazil ratified an extradition treaty, UK authorities made a formal request to extradite Ronnie Biggs.
Ronnie resigned himself to returning to the UK to serve the remainder of his sentence but Brazil turned down the request and he was given the right to stay in that country for the rest of his life.
In 2001, old, failing and in poor health Ronnie returned to the UK. He did so for a price. The Sun newspaper, reportedly paid his son Michael Biggs £20,000 plus other expenses in return for exclusive rights to the news story. Ronnie arrived on a private jet, paid for by The Sun, and was immediately arrested.
Why did Biggs return?
Some say it was to receive healthcare in the UK as his money had dwindled away but his son said it was down to his desire to "walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter."
Biggs tried for early release from prison on compassionate grounds, due to his poor health, but it was not granted. He spent periods of time in prison hospital facilities before being trying for parole in July 2009.
Home Secretary Jack Straw refused parole but grated it in August. Biggs moved to a nursing home and reportedly his health improved. This led to some questioning his release but his health was failing fast.
Biggs was last seen in public in March 2013, when he attended the funeral of fellow train robber, Bruce Reynolds.
Biggs experienced a series of strokes and died, December 18, at Carlton Court Care Home in East Barnet, north London.
Although many view Biggs as a likeable rogue, almost a hero, this report concludes with news from the victim's family.
Mills son said in 2001: "I deeply resent those, including Biggs, who have made money from my father's death."
Mr Mills' son Stephen died on Christmas Day 2011, aged 48. Widow Barbara Mills, 57, from Sandbach, Cheshire, said: "I'm just sad Stephen died before he [Biggs] did. "Biggs is not a hero, he's just an out and out villain."- Telegraph.