Thursday, August 13, 2009

Britain's Great Train Robber Free on compassionate grounds

This would not normally be something to post on ILUVSA, but it is relevant given the tikkie sixpence fraudster, Shaik who got out of prison on the exact same grounds. Unlike Shaik however, Biggs is genuinely ill. He is 80 year old, he is flat on his back in hospital after several strokes and has a terminal case of pneumonia.

It may only be days more that he lives, and so Britain's Justice minister has relented and allowed him to be freed on compassionate grounds. Not that he will be going far, he will probably spend the last days of his life in hospital, but at least there will be nobody guarding over him save for his family who will at least be there to hold his hand while he dies with dignity.

It is a great story in itself, a true story harking back to an era of daring-do and great escapes. Unlike small weeny Shaik, Biggs captured the imagination of a generation and became a folkhero to many who wistfully dreamed of having the bollocks and the sheer good luck to do what he did, and get away with it. And having been on the run for 30 years, Biggs voluntarily returned to Britain to say "here I am, I do not regret what I did, but I am here to serve the rest of my term."

LONDON — Nearly a half-century after the notorious heist that became known as the Great Train Robbery, the last of the men still serving time for stealing $7 million from that Glasgow-to-London mail train was formally paroled Friday after Britain’s justice minister decided he was likely to have only a short time to live.

The man, Ronnie Biggs, who was handed the papers formalizing his release at his bed in a hospital in the provincial town of Norwich, was part of a 15-member gang who stopped the mail train by resetting track signals to red in remote countryside 40 miles northwest of London on Aug. 8, 1963, netting a sum in untraceable banknotes equivalent to more than $70 million today.

Although 13 members were rounded up quickly, and two others were later, the bulk of the money was never recovered.

While he was only a minor player in the robbery, Mr. Biggs played a major part in turning it into the long-running saga it became in modern British folklore by scaling a 30-foot wall at London’s Wandsworth Prison with a rope ladder in 1965 after serving barely a year of his 30-year sentence and fleeing abroad, first to Australia and later to Brazil. He stayed in Brazil for more than 30 years before returning voluntarily to Britain in 2001 to resume serving his sentence, in ill health and saying that he wanted to “walk into a pub and order a pint of bitter.”

In Brazil, his languid lifestyle in the bars of Rio de Janeiro and other antics designed to mock his Scotland Yard pursuers, including recording with and appearing in a film with the Sex Pistols, made him a stock character for Britain’s mass-circulation tabloids. The legend he made of himself, as a likable Cockney rogue in a real-life soap opera, a version never accepted by many of those involved in tracking him down, remained part of the family script even as he won his release.

“Ronnie Biggs is about to close his last chapter, ” Michael Biggs, Mr. Biggs’s son, told reporters at the Norwich hospital. “He is a free man. He will now be retreating fully from public life.”

Mr. Biggs, who turns 80 on Saturday, was told of the decision by officials who went to his bedside at the hospital, where he is severely ill with pneumonia, after suffering strokes. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said that guards assigned to watch Mr. Biggs at the hospital had been withdrawn, and that he had been transferred to the supervision of the country’s probation service.

Michael Biggs said his father reacted with his “usual good humor,” shaking hands with the prison guards and waving them off with his hands.

The decision to free the train robber was an about-face by the justice minister, Jack Straw, who announced last month that he had rejected Mr. Biggs’s bid for release on compassionate grounds because he remained “wholly unrepentant” about his role in the robbery and had “outrageously courted the media,” mocking his Scotland Yard pursuers, when he was on the run. Ironically, Mr. Straw’s initial denial of parole appeared to have been based in part on the fact that Mr. Biggs had made himself Britain’s most famous lawbreaker, making any decision about him politically contentious.

The robbery became the subject of numerous books, television documentaries and films. In a skit in the 1960s comedy revue Beyond the Fringe, the actors Peter Cook and Alan Bennett satirized Scotland Yard’s pursuit of the robbers.

Mr. Biggs’s success in eluding the law for so long, and making a comfortable life for himself while he was on the run, sat ill with many in Britain. The driver of the train that was robbed, Jack Mills, was severely beaten with an iron bar and never recovered from his injuries. Mr. Mills did not return to work, and he died in 1970.

“One can’t forget,” Peter Rayner, a former supervisor for Britain’s railway network who knew Mr. Mills, said after he learned of Mr. Biggs’s release. “The perpetrators have been treated as folk heroes rather than the criminals that we on the railway believe them to be.”

2 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone should copy this article to the Dept of Correctional Services and Zuma's office to show them what being on the brink of death looks like.

Anonymous said...

Now lets compare this to old Shaik Shaik.