|Born||Ronald Arthur Biggs
August 8, 1929
Lambeth, London, England, United Kingdom
|Died||18 December 2013(aged 84)|
|Criminal penalty||30 years in prison
Served 10 years
1963 to 1965 & 2001 to 2009
|Criminal status||Released on compassionate grounds|
|Spouse(s)||Charmian Powell (1960 – 1976), divorced
Raimunda de Castro (2002 – 2013), his death
Ronald Arthur "Ronnie" Biggs (8 August 1929 - 18 December 2013) was an English criminal, known for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, for his escape from prison in 1965, for living as a fugitive for 36 years and for his various publicity stunts while in exile. In 2001, he voluntarily returned to the United Kingdom and spent several years in prison, where his health rapidly declined. On 6 August 2009, Biggs was released from prison on compassionate grounds.
Biggs was born in Lambeth, London. As a child during the Second World War, he was evacuated to Flitwick, Bedfordshire for a time. In 1947, at age 18, he joined the RAF but was dishonorably discharged in 1949 for desertion, having served for only two years. In 1960, he married Charmian Powell, daughter of a primary school headmaster, with whom he had three sons.
Great Train Robbery
In 1963, Biggs participated in the Great Train Robbery. Together with other gang members, he stole £2.6 million after holding up a mail train from Glasgow to London in the early hours of 8 August 1963 (his 34th birthday). Jack Mills, the engine driver, was beaten with an iron bar in the course of the robbery. In 1964, nine of the 15-strong gang, including Biggs, were jailed for the crime. Most received sentences of 30 years. Biggs served 15 months before escaping from Wandsworth Prison on 8 July 1965 by scaling the wall with a rope ladder and dropping onto a waiting removal van. He fled to Brussels by boat, then went to Paris with his wife Charmian and two sons, Nicholas and Chris, where he acquired new identity papers and underwent plastic surgery.
In 1966, Biggs took a British Overseas Airways Corporation flight to Sydney, where he lived for several months before moving to the seaside suburb of Glenelg in Adelaide, South Australia. He was soon joined by his wife and two children. In 1967, just after their third child was born, Biggs received an anonymous letter from Britain telling him that Interpol suspected that he was in Australia and that he should move. In May 1967, the family moved to Melbourne, Victoria where he rented a house in the suburb of Blackburn North, while his wife Charmian and his three sons lived in Doncaster East. He had a number of jobs in Melbourne before undertaking set construction work at the Channel 9 TV studios. In October 1969, a newspaper report by a Reuters correspondent revealed that Biggs was living in Melbourne and claimed that police were closing in on him. The story led the 6 o'clock news at Channel 9, and Biggs fled his home, staying with family friends in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Five months later, he fled on a passenger liner from the Port of Melbourne, using the altered passport of a friend. His wife and sons remained in Australia. 20 days later, the ship berthed in Panama and within two weeks Biggs flew to Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro
In 1974, Daily Express reporter Colin MacKenzie received information suggesting that Biggs was in Rio de Janeiro; a team consisting of MacKenzie, photographer Bill Lovelace and reporter Michael O'Flaherty confirmed this and broke the story. Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper arrived soon afterwards, but Biggs could not be extradited because his girlfriend, nightclub dancer Raimunda de Castro, was pregnant. Brazilian law at the time did not allow a parent of a Brazilian child to be extradited. 
In April 1977 Biggs attended a cocktail party on board the Royal Navy frigate Danae, which was in Rio for a courtesy visit, but he was not arrested. Though in Brazil he was safe from extradition, Biggs' status as a known felon meant he could not work, visit bars or be away from home after 10pm. To provide an income, Biggs' family hosted barbecues at his home in Rio, where tourists could meet Biggs and hear him recount his involvement in the robbery (which in fact was minor). Biggs was even visited by ex-footballer Stanley Matthews, whom Biggs invited after to his apartment after hearing he was in Rio. "We had tea on the small balcony at the rear of his home, and one of the first things he asked was, 'How are Charlton Athletic doing?' It turned out he had supported Charlton from being a small boy and had often seen me play at The Valley." Around this time, "Ronnie Biggs" mugs, coffee cups and T-shirts also appeared throughout Rio.
Biggs 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)"/"Cosh The Driver") 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 added in an English studio at a later date. "No One is Innocent" was released as a single in the UK on 30 June 1978 and reached number 7 in the UK Singles Chart. The sleeve showed a British actor dressed as Nazi leader Martin Bormann playing bass with the group.
In April 1981, Biggs was kidnapped by a gang of British ex-soldiers. The boat they took him aboard suffered mechanical problems off Barbados, and the stranded kidnappers and Biggs were rescued by the Barbados coastguard and towed into port in Barbados. The kidnappers hoped to collect a reward from the British police; however, like Brazil, Barbados had no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom and Biggs was sent back to Brazil. In February 2006, Channel 4 aired a documentary featuring dramatisations of the attempted kidnapping and interviews with John Miller, the ex-British Army soldier who carried it out. The team was headed by security consultant Patrick King. In the documentary, King claimed that the kidnapping may have in fact been a deniable operation.The ITN reporter Desmond Hamill paid to accompany Biggs on the private Learjet returning him to Brazil and secured an exclusive interview as well as convincing Biggs to kiss the tarmac upon landing.
Biggs' son by de Castro, Michael Biggs, eventually became a member of the successful children's programme and music 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 financial difficulty again.
In 1991, Biggs sang vocals for the songs "Police on My Back" and "Carnival in Rio (Punk Was)" by German punk band Die Toten Hosen. In 1993, Biggs sang on three tracks for the album "Bajo otra bandera" by Argentinian punk band Pilsen.
In 1997 the UK and Brazil ratified an extradition treaty. Two months later, the UK Government made a formal request to the Brazilian government for Biggs' extradition. Biggs had stated that he would no longer oppose extradition. English lawyer Nigel Sangster QC travelled to Brazil to advise Biggs. The extradition request was rejected by Brazilian Supreme Court, giving Biggs the right to live in Brazil for the rest of his life.
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.
Return to the UK
In 2001 Biggs announced to The Sun that he would be willing to return to the UK. Biggs was aware that he would be detained upon arrival in Britain and returned voluntarily on 7 May 2001, whereupon he was immediately arrested and re-imprisoned.His trip back to Britain on a private jet was paid for by the Sun, which reportedly paid Michael Biggs £20,000 plus other expenses in return for exclusive rights to the news story. Ronald Biggs had 28 years of his sentence left to serve. Since his return he has had a number of health problems, including two heart attacks. His son said in a press release that, contrary to some press reports, Biggs did not return to the UK simply to receive health care because it was available in Brazil and Biggs 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". John Mills, Jack Mills' son, was unforgiving: "I deeply resent those, including Biggs, who have made money from my father's death. Biggs should serve his punishment." Mills never fully recovered from his injuries sustained during the robbery. He died of an unrelated cause (leukaemia) in 1970.
On 14 November 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, 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 10 August 2005, it was reported that Biggs had contracted MRSA. His representatives, seeking for his release on grounds of compassion, said that their client's death was likely to be imminent. On 26 October 2005, the Home Secretary Charles Clarke declined his appeal stating that his illness was not terminal. Home Office compassion policy is to release prisoners with three months left to live. Biggs was claimed by his son Michael to need a tube for feeding and to have "difficulty" speaking.
On 4 July 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. There is no honour to being known as a Great Train Robber. My life has been wasted."
In January 2009, after a series of strokes that were said to have rendered him unable to speak or walk, it was claimed in the press that Biggs was to be released in August 2009 and would die a "free man". His son Michael had also claimed that the Parole Board might bring the release date forward to July 2009. On 13 February 2009, it was reported that Biggs had been taken to hospital from his cell at Norwich Prison, suffering from pneumonia. This was confirmed the following day by his son Michael, who said Biggs had serious pneumonia but was stable. News of his condition prompted fresh calls from Michael Biggs for his release on compassionate grounds.
March 2009 'Ronnie Biggs- The Inside Story' was published by Mike Gray, organiser of The Free Ronnie Biggs Campaign from 2001-2009, the book tells of Biggs' time in HMP Belmarsh and HMP Norwich. Gray had visited Biggs in prison every month for eight years.
On 23 April the Parole Board recommended that Biggs be released on 4 July, having served a third of his 30-year sentence. However, on 1 July Jack Straw did not accept the Parole Board's recommendation and refused parole, stating that Biggs was 'wholly unrepentant'. On 28 July 2009, Biggs was readmitted to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital with pneumonia. He had been admitted to the same hospital a month earlier with a chest infection and a fractured hip but returned to prison on 17 July 2009. His son Michael said, in one of his frequent news releases: "It's the worst he's ever been. The doctors have just told me to rush there."
On 30 July 2009, it was claimed by representatives of Biggs that he had been given "permission" to challenge the decision to refuse him parole. However, the Home Office stated only that an application for the early release on compassionate grounds of a prisoner at HMP Norwich had been received by the public protection casework section in the National Offender Management Service. Biggs was released from custody on 6 August, two days before his 80th birthday, on 'compassionate grounds'.
Following his release from prison, Biggs' health improved, leading to suggestions that he might soon be moved from hospital to a nursing home. In response to claims that Biggs's state of health had been faked, his lawyer stated, "This man is going to die, there is going to be no Lazarus coming back from the dead, he is ill, he is seriously ill." However, Biggs himself stated, "I've got a bit of living to do yet. I might even surprise them all by lasting until Christmas, that would be fantastic." In fact, he lasted not only until Christmas 2009, but well beyond that date. In March 2013, frail, but apparently no longer at death's door, he attended the funeral of his fellow train robber, Bruce Reynolds and posed happily for media photographers.
On 29 May 2010, Biggs was again admitted to hospital in London after complaining of chest pain. He underwent tests at Barnet General Hospital. His son Michael stated, "he's conscious but he's in a lot of pain".
On 10 February 2011, Biggs was admitted to Barnet General Hospital with another suspected stroke. His son Michael said he was conscious and preparing to have a CT scan and a series of other tests to determine what had happened.
On 17 November 2011, Biggs launched his new and updated autobiography, "Odd Man Out: The Last Straw" at Shoreditch House in London. He was unable to speak and used a word board to communicate with the press.
On 12 January 2012, ITV Studios announced it had commissioned a five-part drama, Mrs Biggs, to be based around the life of Biggs' wife Charmian, played by Sheridan Smith and Biggs by Daniel Mays. Charmian Biggs acted as a consultant on the series flew to Britain in February 2012, from Australia, just before filming for Mrs Biggs began and visited Biggs.
In July 2013, Biggs contributed to the "The Great Train Robbery 50th Anniversary:1963-2013" (ISBN: 978-0957255975), along with the mastermind of the robbery, Bruce Reynolds; Reynolds' son, Nick; and Biggs' ghost, Chris Pickard.
On 18 December 2013, Ronnie Biggs died after a long illness.
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