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Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs has died this morning
7:58am Wednesday 18th December 2013 in News
Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs has died.
The 84-year-old, who won worldwide notoriety after escaping and living the high life in Rio de Janeiro, passed away in the early hours of this morning.
He was being cared for at the Carlton Court Care Home in East Barnet, North London, and had become increasingly frail in recent years after suffering several strokes.
Biggs was last seen in public at the funeral of fellow Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds in March.
His place in the annals of crime owed more to his status as a notorious fugitive than his prowess as a villain.
His conviction for his part in the most celebrated robbery in the history of British crime and his subsequent escape and high-profile life in Rio de Janeiro brought him the sort of worldwide notoriety in which he seemed to revel.
But at the age of 71, and in failing health after three strokes, Biggs announced he was ending his 35-year exile.
He was penniless and needed vital medical treatment in Britain which he could not afford in Brazil.
Ignoring protests from his family, including son Michael who begged him to reconsider, he sent an email to Scotland Yard informing them that he wanted to give himself up and needed a passport.
He struck a deal with The Sun newspaper which flew him back to Britain in May 2001 on an executive jet stocked with curry, Marmite and beer.
Explaining his reasons for turning himself in, Biggs said: ''I am a sick man. My last wish is to walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter.
''I hope I live long enough to do that.''
The wish was never fulfilled.
The formalities of returning an escapee to justice were swiftly dealt with, and he was transferred to the high-security Belmarsh Prison to continue serving the sentence he had put on hold three-and-a-half decades earlier.
Lambeth-born Ronald Arthur Biggs had been, essentially, a small-time crook who suddenly and unexpectedly found himself in the big league.
He was born on August 8, 1929, and his first court appearance came as a 15-year-old in January 1945 - for stealing pencils from Littlewoods.
In 1950, Biggs cut a faintly absurd figure in the robbery of a bookie in Lambeth Road.
Nine convictions and 13 years later he was given the chance to play a bit part in a robbery on an altogether grander scale and, by accepting it, set himself on the path to a lifetime of infamy.
He joined the gang which held up the Royal Mail night train from Glasgow to London on his 34th birthday, August 8, 1963 - the Great Train Robbery.
Biggs's role was to find a driver for the train. In fact, the driver he found had problems with the controls and the train's legitimate driver, 57-year-old Jack Mills, was coshed with iron bars and forced to move the train. He died seven years later.
The gang seized a cargo of used banknotes worth around £2.6 million.
The hold-up, at Sears Crossing in Buckinghamshire, was planned in minute detail and, initially at least, was a spectacular success.
The gang shared out the proceeds at isolated Leatherslade Farm - Biggs taking around £148,000 - but thereafter things started to go badly wrong, with nearly all the gang members being rounded up by the police.
Eleven of the robbers got jail sentences ranging from 14 to 30 years.
Sentenced to 30 years' behind bars on April 15, 1964, Biggs was to serve just 15 months in prison.
On July 8, 1965, he made a daring escape from Wandsworth prison. While other prisoners created a diversion in the exercise yard, Biggs scaled a wall with a rope ladder and dropped onto a furniture van parked alongside.
After a brief stopover in Paris for £40,000 worth of plastic surgery to change his appearance, he travelled to Australia, entering the country on a false passport using an assumed name.
For several months he ran a boarding house in Adelaide, using the name Terry King, and in June 1966 his wife Charmian and two children joined him, also on false passports.
The family moved first to Perth and then to Melbourne, where Biggs took a job as a foreman carpenter at a local airport in the name of Cooke.
In 1968 came a breakthrough for his pursuers. Biggs had formed a business partnership with another fugitive from British justice. His partner was arrested and the trail began to hot up.
But a year later, a security slip allowed the elusive Biggs to slip the net yet again. A Melbourne newspaper published a story that the manhunt was being renewed in the city and the report was taken up by TV.
A day before police swooped on his home, Biggs had packed a suitcase and disappeared - without even taking the family.
Once again the trail went cold. Throughout 1970 and 1971, there were reports of sightings in Hong Kong, South Africa and Japan, but there were no firm leads as to Biggs's precise whereabouts.
The Australian underworld put it about that he had been killed in a plane crash.
In fact, he was building a new life for himself in Brazil.
In the sunshine city of Rio de Janeiro the fugitive, now calling himself Michael Haynes, carved out a new career as a jobbing carpenter.
But his peace was shattered on February 1, 1974, when he was tracked down in Rio by the reporter Colin MacKenzie - and shortly afterwards by Detective Inspector Jack Slipper of Scotland Yard.
But the Yard's efforts to get Biggs back to Britain were foiled by Brazilian law.
Biggs had got his Brazilian lover Raimunda de Castro pregnant, and, as the father of a Brazilian child, had won himself immunity from extradition under Brazilian law 941.
But by the late 1990s his health started to decline and he suffered the first of four strokes in 1998. He eventually returned to Britain and a life as prisoner 002731.
Barely a month back in his home country, a fourth stroke followed and Biggs was moved from prison to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich.
He was returned to the top-security Belmarsh Prison in south-east London after a week where he was fed through a drip as his health continued to decline.
On July 10, 2002 Biggs finally married his son Michael's Brazilian mother Raimunda in a ceremony at Belmarsh jail.
He was too ill to say his vows and held up a card which read ''I do''.
Appeals to have Biggs released met with deaf ears. In October 2003 an appeal against his sentence was thrown out by a High Court judge as ''hopeless'' and ''misconceived''.
Biggs was moved from Belmarsh to Norwich Prison in July 2007 to live on a unit for elderly inmates.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw refused him parole in 2009 and accused him of being ''wholly unrepentant'' about his crimes.
But Biggs was old and severely ill, lying in a bed in Norwich Hospital with pneumonia, fractures of the hip, pelvis and spine.
After three strokes he was unable to eat, speak or walk.
He was finally granted compassionate release from his prison sentence on August 6 2009, just two days before his 80th birthday.
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