April 23, 2009 / 2:11 PM / 10 years ago

Is Great Train Robber Biggs on verge of freedom?

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - “Great Train Robber” Ronnie Biggs will have to wait to learn whether he will be released from prison, the parole board said on Thursday.

Biggs, 79, is applying for early release from jail where he is serving a 30-year term for his part in one of Britain’s most infamous crimes.

Biggs and 11 other gang members robbed a Glasgow-to-London mail train in 1963 and stole 2.6 million pounds — about 30 million pounds ($44 million) in today’s money. The crime has been known ever since as “The Great Train Robbery.”

Biggs was caught and sentenced the following year, but escaped from prison after just 15 months, fleeing first to Australia and then to Brazil.

His playboy lifestyle and cocky defiance of the British authorities made him a criminal legend, spawning several films and making heroes out of the villains in the eyes of millions around the world.

However, he surrendered to police in 2001 after 36 years on the run and is now serving out the remainder of his sentence.

A parole panel met on Thursday to discuss his case, but a spokesman said no decision had been reached.

“There are certain issues which still need to be clarified before a final recommendation can be made,” the spokesman said.

“We are confident that the information can be made available for a decision to be made in time for Mr Biggs’ parole eligibility date in July 2009.”

The panel’s recommendation will also have to be approved by Justice Secretary Jack Straw before he can be released.

Biggs’ son Michael said his father, who has suffered three strokes, two minor heart attacks, has skin cancer and cannot walk, or eat, drink or speak properly, should now be freed.

“From what I understand he fulfils all the criteria to be able to receive parole. He clearly represents no threat to society whatsoever,” he told BBC TV.

“I would ask common sense to prevail on this. My father has certainly done his time. He has spent the same amount of time in prison as the other train robbers.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison

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