Ronnie Biggs Escapes Prison
A minor figure in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, Ronnie Biggs has nevertheless become the most famous name among those criminals who pulled off the most audacious robbery of the sixties .
There is a tendency to glamorize the Great Train Robbers, to turn them into Robin Hood figures. They carried out a robbery that cost the country £2.6 million, the equivalent of maybe £45 million today – most of the money was never recovered. The assistant train driver was thrown down a railway embankment, and the train driver coshed with an iron bar, never being fit to return to work before his premature death in 1970.
Biggs had been detailed to look after the train driver brought to move the hijacked engine and carriage to the place where the gang had left their vehicles. The driver could not work the train, so Biggs and he were sent to load money sacks. In spite of this Biggs received a 30-year sentence.
On July 8 1965 Biggs and three other men escaped from Wandsworth Prison in a carefully planned and well financed operation. A ladder was thrown over the prison wall at just after 3pm as the men exercised. A furniture van with a platform on top was outside the wall, to hold the ladder in place and make the descent from the top rapid and safe. Prison officers who tried to intervene as the men fled were held back by other prisoners in the yard.
Three cars were waiting for them (and as a shotgun was found afterwards in one of the cars it is reasonable to assume they were prepared to use violence).
Biggs along with his wife and sons managed to slip out of Britain to Paris, where he underwent plastic surgery to alter his appearance, and where he obtained false papers that allowed him in 1970 to move to Australia after spending some time in Spain.
In Australia, however, he was recognized, and forced to move before fleeing the country when the chase threatened him again.
Biggs spent more than three decades in Brazil, cocking a snook at the British authorities who were unable to extradite him. He was kidnapped in 1981 and taken out of Brazil, but had to be let go on a technicality.
Biggs returned to the UK in 2001, a sick man, partly to receive health treatment, partly because it seems he hoped to be allowed to go free. He was, however, arrested and returned to begin serving the remaining 28 years of his sentence.