The Great Train Robber who spent 36 years on the run after escaping from prison has died in the same year as the crime’s 50th anniversary.
Famous fugitive Ronnie Biggs was one of the notorious 15-strong gang who stole today’s equivalent of £40 million after ambushing a Royal Mail train as it passed through Ledburn.
The 84-year-old died in the early hours of this morning after a long illness ahead of tonight’s two-part BBC drama, A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale, to mark the 1963 Great Train Robbery.
Former LBO reporter, John Flewin, was first to arrive at the scene to report on the story that was later dubbed the crime of the century - and he was just eight months into his journalism career.
John, of Stewkley, said: “He would have been the archetype loveable rogue, had it not been for the injury inflicted by the robbers on train driver Jack Mills.
“Biggs always said he was not involved in that incident, and regretted it. The plan was always for a non-violent crime.
“In later interviews, including some for ITN where I was then news editor, he never regretted taking part in the robbery.
“The robbery itself was clearly the shaping influence on his life, but it was the length of the prison sentence — 30 years — that affected him the most.
“He said later that he could have accepted a 20 year sentence, but 30 years — longer than those actually served by many who receive life sentences — meant he just had to escape.
“And that he did 14 months later— with help, scaling the huge walls at Wandsworth prison via a rope ladder.
“In the freedom that the escape provided, he remained a scoundrel, even to the extent of fathering a child in Brazil knowing that the father of a child born in that county could not be extradited.”
> Mike Gray, who has been a close friend of Ronnies for more than 25 years, told the LBO in September he applied to the Guinness Book of Records for an entry as the author of the most books – printed editions and Kindle versions, on the Great Train Robber.
His new book ‘The Ronnie Biggs Quiz Book’ will be published on New Years Day.
Mike said: “It is a very sad day for myself as I only saw Ronnie recently to show him my new book, but at least he died peacefully in his sleep.
“I am sure his funeral will be a very sad time, but something i am looking forward to, to say my last farewells to someone I called a close friend.”