'Great Train Robber' Ronnie Biggs defiant even in death

Fri Jan 3, 2014 11:59am EST
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By Alexander Winning

LONDON (Reuters) - "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs arrived for his funeral on Friday in a hearse bearing a large flower display in the shape of an obscene two-finger "V-sign", a fitting emblem of his lifelong defiance of the British authorities.

Biggs, a small-time criminal who became a celebrity during a life on the run after the notorious 1963 robbery, died last month at the age of 84 in a London nursing home.

He had served just 15 months of a 30-year jail term when he escaped in 1965, fleeing to Australia, then Brazil, from where he flaunted his freedom, partying in exotic locations and giving interviews to the British press.

But after 36 years on the run, Biggs returned to Britain in 2001, broke and in poor health, going back to jail until illness prompted his release in 2009.

In his final year, Biggs appeared in public twice, frail and wheelchair-bound, but unrepentant for his role in the heist in which the gang stole 2.6 million pounds ($4.2 million) from a Royal Mail train, equivalent to about 40 million today.

At the funeral of the robbery's mastermind Bruce Reynolds in March last year, Biggs found the strength to stick two fingers up at the cameras.

On Friday, a cortege of Hell's Angels bikers and a brass band playing "When The Saints Go Marching In" led Biggs' coffin into a north London crematorium, followed by his family and various underworld figures, and watched by a scrum of media and some passers-by.

"Biggs was not a major criminal but he had a eye for publicity. This is a circus, and everyone has fallen for it," said local resident David Rose, watching as the coffin draped in the British and Brazilian flags passed by in heavy rain.   Continued...

A floral tribute stands against the coffin of Ronnie Biggs as his funeral cortege arrives at Golders Green Crematorium in north London January 3, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville