'Great Train Robber' Ronnie Biggs dies aged 84

Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:40am EST
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - Ronnie Biggs, a small-time British criminal who became a celebrity during a life on the run after his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, died on Wednesday at the age of 84.

Biggs gained notoriety 50 years ago as one of a 12-member gang that ambushed a Royal Mail night train and made off with 2.6 million pounds ($4.2 million), equivalent to about 40 million pounds today. He was caught and jailed the next year.

He became the most famous of the gang after escaping from London's Wandsworth Prison in 1965, where he was serving a 30-year prison sentence, by scaling a wall with a rope ladder and spending 36 years on the run.

He used his share of the loot for plastic surgery and passage to Australia. He later fled to Brazil via Panama and Venezuela.

Living in Brazil, Biggs flaunted his freedom, was photographed partying in a policeman's helmet and in exotic locations, and in 1978 recorded a song "No One is Innocent" with the British punk band the Sex Pistols.

Tanned and sporting his white hair in a ponytail, he regularly gave interviews to British newspapers, staying in the public spotlight while in exile and reveling in his notoriety.

The Great Train Robbery became one of the most celebrated events in popular memory of the 1960s, coinciding with the Profumo affair - a sex-and-spies scandal which rocked the British establishment - and the rise of the Beatles and other working-class heroes. It spawned several films.

Biggs became a folk legend to some Britons but remained an unrepentant villain to others.   Continued...

File photograph shows Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs gesturing as he arrives for the funeral of Bruce Reynolds, at the church of St Bartholomew the Great in London March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hall/Files