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Ronald Biggs
1929 -
 


Ronald Arthur Biggs better known as Ronnie Biggs, is an English prisoner who is known for escaping from prison after his minor role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963 and for being on the run for many years. He lived for 35 years in Brazil but voluntarily returned to England in 2001.
 

 

Great Train Robbery

Biggs was born in Lambeth, England. In 1947 Biggs at age 18 joined the RAF but was dishonourably discharged in 1949 for desertion and served two years. In 1960 he married Charmian Brent, with whom he had three sons (one deceased). Biggs is most famous for the Great Train Robbery of 1963. Together with other gang members, he stole £2.6 million from a mail train. After being convicted and jailed, he escaped from HM Prison Wandsworth on the 7th July 1965 by scaling the wall with a rope ladder. He fled to Paris, where he acquired new identity papers and underwent plastic surgery. In 1970, he quietly moved to Adelaide, South Australia. He worked in Set Construction at Channel 9 Melbourne until a reporter recognised him. He then fled to Blackburn North, in Melbourne, Australia, staying for some time before fleeing to Brazil in the same year. His wife and sons stayed behind in Australia.


Rio de Janeiro

In 1974, he was found by the Daily Express in Rio de Janeiro--the newspaper scoop of the decade. Express reporter Colin MacKenzie had received information pointing to Biggs' whereabouts. MacKenzie, photographer Bill Lovelace and reporter Michael O'Flaherty were the Daily Express team. Scotland Yard detectives arrived soon afterwards, but Biggs could not be extradited because the United Kingdom did not benefit from reciprocity of extradition to Brazil, a condition for the Brazilian process of extradition. Additionally, Biggs' then girlfriend (Raimunda de Castro, a nightclub dancer and supposedly prostitute) was pregnant; Brazilian law would not allow the parent of a Brazilian child to be expelled. As a result, Biggs was able to live openly in Brazil, completely untouchable by the British authorities. While his status as a felon prevented Biggs from working, there was nothing to stop him profiting from Scotland Yard's misfortune. As a result, "Ronnie Biggs" mugs, coffee cups and t-shirts suddenly started to appear in tourist traps throughout Rio.

He spent the next three decades of his life as a fugitive and became something of a celebrity, despite having been a rather minor figure in the actual robbery.

Supposedly, Biggs returned to England several times during the making of a documentary about the Great Train Robbery, always in disguise. He also recorded vocals on two songs for The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, Julien Temple's film about the Sex Pistols. The basic tracks for "No One is Innocent" (aka "The Biggest Blow (A Punk Prayer)") and "Belsen Was a Gas" were recorded with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook at a studio in Brazil shortly after the Sex Pistols' final performance, with overdubs being added in an English studio at a later date. "No One is Innocent" was released as a single in the UK and reached #6 on the British singles charts, with the sleeve showing Martin Bormann playing bass with the group (in actuality this was American actor James Jeter).

Following the extradition attempt, Biggs collaborated with Bruce Henry (an American double-bass player), Jaime Shields, and Aureo de Souza to record Mailbag Blues, a musical narrative of his life that he intended to use as a movie soundtrack. This album was re-released in 2004 by whatmusic.com.

In 1981, Biggs was kidnapped and smuggled into Barbados. The kidnappers hoped to collect some reward from the British police. The coup was discovered, though, and Biggs made use of legal loopholes to have himself sent back to Brazil. In February 2006, Channel 4 aired a documentary featuring dramatisations of the attempted kidnap and interviews with John Miller, an ex-British Army personnel who carried it out. The team was headed by security consultant Patrick King. In the documentary, King claims that the kidnapping may have in fact been a deniable operation.

Biggs' son by de Castro, Michael Biggs, eventually became a member of the successful band Turma do Balão Mágico, bringing a new source of income to his father. In a short time, however, the band faded into obscurity and dissolved, leaving father and son in relatively dire straits again.

In 1991, Biggs sang vocals for the song "Carnival In Rio" by German punk band Die Toten Hosen.


Return to the UK

In 2001 Biggs announced to The Sun that he would be willing to return to the UK. Biggs was fully aware that he would be detained upon arrival in England. Even so, he returned voluntarily on May 7, 2001, and was immediately arrested and re-imprisoned. His trip back to England on a private jet was paid by The Sun, which reportedly paid Michael Biggs £20,000 plus other expenses in return for exclusive rights on the news story. Ronald Biggs had 28 years of his sentence left to serve. Since his return he has undergone a number of health scares, including two heart attacks, and has failed to get his sentence overturned or reduced.

His son said in a press release that contrary to some press reports, Biggs has not returned to the UK simply to receive health care. Health care was available in Brazil and he had many friends and supporters who would certainly have contributed to any such expenses. Biggs' stated desire was to "walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter".

On November 14, 2001, Biggs petitioned Governor Hynd of HMP Belmarsh for early release on compassionate grounds based on his poor health. He had been treated four times at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich in less than six months. His health was deteriorating rapidly and he asked to be released into the care of his son for his remaining days. The application was denied.

On August 10, 2005, it was reported that Biggs had contracted MRSA. His lawyers, seeking for his release on grounds of compassion, said that their client's death was likely to be imminent.

On October 26, 2005, the Home Secretary Charles Clarke declined his appeal stating that his illness is not deemed terminal. Home Office compassion policy is to release prisoners with three months left to live. Biggs continues to need a tube for feeding and has difficulty speaking.

On July 4, 2007, Biggs was moved from Belmarsh prison to Norwich prison on "compassionate grounds".

In December 2007, Biggs issued a further appeal, from Norwich prison, asking to be released from jail to die with his family: "I am an old man and often wonder if I truly deserve the extent of my punishment. I have accepted it and only want freedom to die with my family and not in jail. I hope Mr Straw decides to allow me to do that. I have been in jail for a long time and I want to die a free man. I am sorry for what happened. It has not been an easy ride over the years. Even in Brazil I was a prisoner of my own making"
 


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1965: Ronald Biggs escapes from jail

Ronald Biggs - a member of the gang who carried out the Great Train Robbery in 1963 - has escaped from Wandsworth prison.

Biggs, 35, escaped by scaling a 30ft wall with three other prisoners at 1505 BST today.

A ladder was thrown over the wall from the outside during the prisoners' afternoon exercise session.

The escapees climbed the ladder and lowered themselves into a waiting van. They were driven away from the prison in three cars.


Loaded shotgun

Every police car in London has been notified and all ports and airports have been alerted.

Biggs is the second of the Great Train Robbers to escape from jail - Charles Wilson is still at large after escaping from Winson Green prison in Birmingham in August last year.

Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Lewis, who is investigating the escape, said the break-out was well prepared and "was engineered without a doubt with collusion inside the prison".

He added this did not suggest prison officers had been involved.

A Home Office spokesperson explained what happened. He said: "At 3.05pm one of the four officers on duty in the yard saw a man's head appear above the outside wall.

"The officer immediately rang the alarm bell and at the same time the man on the wall threw over a rope and tubular ladder.

"The four prisoners immediately made for the ladder and climbed over the top. The prison officers tried to stop them, but were stopped by some of the others in the exercise yard.

"The officers went outside and discovered a van with a platform on top parked against the wall and the ladders secured to the top of the van."

Police said a green Ford Zephyr, involved in the escape, had been found abandoned tonight outside Wandsworth Common railway station.

Police also found a loaded shotgun and a set of overalls inside.

An operations room has been set up inside the prison and the area cordoned off. People living near the prison are being interviewed by police.

Scotland Yard has warned members of the public not to approach any of the men as they may be armed and dangerous.
 


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He, and others, stole 2.6 million from a mail train. After he was convicted, he escaped from Wandsworth Prison in 1965 by scaling the wall with a rope ladder, got papers and a new face in Paris, and fled to Australia and then Brazil in 1970. He allegedly had only 200 left when he arrived in Brazil. His wife Charmian and two sons stayed behind in Australia. He spent the next three decades of his life a fugitive, and became somewhat of a media celebrity.

In 1974 he was found by the British police in Rio de Janeiro, but couldn't be extradited because his current girlfriend (Raimunda de Castro, a nightclub dancer and prostitute) was pregnant. Brazilian law wouldn't allow the parent of a Brazilian child to be extradited. Unfortunately, his felon status also prevented him from working, but nothing prevented him from profiting from Scotland Yard's misfortune. "Ronnie Biggs" coffee cups and t-shirts suddenly started showing up in tourist traps throughout Rio. For $60, you could have breakfast and stimulating conversation with the charming anti-hero.

Supposedly, he was back and forth to the UK several times during the making of a documentary about the Great Train Robbery, always in disguise. Also, he produced several songs with the Sex Pistols right after Johnny Rotten left the band in 1978. With the Pistols he recorded the song "No One is Innocent".

In 1981 Biggs was kidnapped by a gang of adventurers who managed to smuggle him to Barbados, hoping to collect some reward from the British police. The coup was discovered, though, and Biggs made use of legal loopholes to have himself sent back to Brazil.

Ronnie's Brazilian son by Raimunda, Michael, would eventually become a member of a child band of enormous success (Turma do Bal o M gico), bringing a welcome new source of income to his father, who would spend with abandon. In a short time, however, the band faded into obscurity and dissolved, leaving father and son in relatively dire straits again.

In 2001 Biggs announced to The Sun newspaper that he would be willing to return to the UK. He had suffered a stroke the previous year, and was in poor health. His stated desire was to "walk into a pub a British man and have a pint of bitter", but the callous often assume he was only after the free health care available.

He returned on May 7, 2001, and much to his family's displeasure was re-imprisoned. His trip back on a private jet was paid by The Sun, which has also reportedly paid Michael Biggs 20,000, plus other expenses. Ronald Biggs had 28 years of his sentence left. Since his return he has undergone numerous health scares, including two heart attacks, and has failed to get his sentence overturned or reduced.


 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 19 December, 2008