Great Train Robber Biggs to die in freedom

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Ronnie Biggs, the famous fugitive and Great Train Robber, is to be released from custody to spend his dying days in freedom.

Norwich – Ronnie Biggs, notorious for his role in Britain's 1963 Great Train Robbery and then 35 years as a celebrity fugitive, was to be released from custody on Friday to spend his dying days in freedom.

The Biggs family was waiting on a fax confirming his release. Biggs turns 80 on Saturday; 46 years to the day since the infamous heist.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced Thursday that Biggs, jailed in 2001 after giving himself up, was being released on compassionate grounds because his condition had deteriorated and was unlikely to improve.

Biggs is in a hospital under guard by prison officers in Norwich, eastern England, with severe pneumonia. A series of strokes has also left him bedridden and unable to speak, eat or walk.

His son Michael, speaking outside the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, said Straw's u-turn would make little practical difference to his father's life but would be a huge relief "spiritually".

"We are expecting a fax from the Ministry of Justice which will be the formal release," he said.

"I will be sitting by the fax machine waiting for it.

"Then the three guards who are with my father at the hospital will leave and my father will be free for the first time since 1963.

"Practically, this doesn't make much change. My father will stay in hospital," he added.

"But, spiritually, for the family, it will be a very big thing to have my father free.

"My father is extremely weak.

"It is touch and go but, hopefully, he will be able to recover to some extent.

"He is in a very frail condition but, hopefully, the real minister for justice will grant my father some extra time."

Michael Biggs said his father had "a very difficult night" due to his pneumonia but was aware of his impending freedom.

"Once those guards are removed from the room, it will really sink in for us," he told reporters.

"It'll be probably a very emotional moment."

Straw last month rejected Biggs's application for parole on the grounds that the robber was "wholly unrepentant" about his crimes but he said the decision on compassionate release was based on "different considerations".

"The medical evidence clearly shows that Mr Biggs is very ill and that his condition has deteriorated recently, culminating in his re-admission to hospital. His condition is not expected to improve," Straw said.

The three prison service staff watching Biggs in hospital were to be withdrawn on Friday, once the licence for his release is finalised.

The infamous Great Train Robbery saw a 15-strong gang hold up a Glasgow to London mail train and make off with GBP 2.6 million – a huge sum at the time –  at a railway bridge north of London.

Most of the cash was never found. The train driver, Jack Mills, was hit on the head during the robbery and died seven years later without ever making a full recovery.

Biggs played a minor role in the hold-up but was jailed for 30 years in 1964. He subsequently escaped by scaling a prison wall and jumping onto the roof of a furniture van.

On the run for decades, he fled to France, where he had plastic surgery, and Spain before heading to Australia. He eventually settled in Brazil, where he was often pictured partying in British newspapers.

Biggs beat British extradition requests because he had a Brazilian dependant, his young son Michael, by his Brazilian girlfriend.

He nevertheless handed himself over to British authorities in 2001 amid a blaze of publicity. Biggs said his last wish was to enjoy a pint of beer in an English pub by the seaside before he died but he was sent back to jail.

If his condition does improve, Biggs will likely be transferred to a nursing home in Barnet, north London, near his son's home.

AFP / Expatica

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