The police investigation into the Great Train Robbery was due to be commemorated last night, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the crime.
Former Buckinghamshire Constabulary officers were to be praised for their work at the time of the robbery and during the subsequent search for the culprits.
On 8 August, 1963 a gang of robbers, lead by Bruce Reynolds, stopped the Glasgow-Euston overnight mail train – which was carrying huge numbers of used banknotes – as it passed through the Buckinghamshire countryside close to Cheddington.
Twelve of the robbers were jailed for a total of over 300 years but more than one broke out of prison, including the notorious Ronnie Biggs who spent over 30 years on the run before finally returning to Britain in 2001 to face arrest.
Reynolds returned in 1968, five years after the crime, and was captured in Torquay and jailed for 25 years.
Two police officers who were involved in the investigation were expected to attend last night’s event alongside serving Thames Valley Police officers in Witney, Oxfordshire.
Keith Milner was a detective at Aylesbury at the time of the robbery, while John Woolley was a PC and discovered Leatherslade Farm, where the men hid after committing the crime.
Last month, Biggs insisted he was proud to have been part of the gang. The famous fugitive, who celebrates his 84th birthday today, escaped from prison in 1965 and spent 36 years on the run before finally being jailed in 2001.
Released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 due to ill-health, he is still alive and being cared for in a north London nursing home.
He has few regrets about the crime that made him a household name.
Biggs, who cannot speak and communicates through a spelling board, said: “If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the train robbers, my answer is, ‘No!’.
“I will go further: I am proud to have been one of them. I am equally happy to be described as the ‘tea boy’ or the ‘brain’.
“I was there that August night and that is what counts. I am one of the few witnesses – living or dead – to what was ‘The Crime of the Century’.”
But although Biggs is proud to have been involved in the headline-grabbing crime, he admitted he does have some regrets.
“It is regrettable, as I have said many times, that the train driver was injured,” he said. “And he was not the only victim.
“The people who paid the heaviest price for are the families. The families of everyone involved in the Great Train Robbery, and from both sides of the track.
“All have paid a price for our collective involvement in the robbery. A very heavy price, in the case of my family. For that, I do have my regrets.”
A new book has been published to mark the 50th anniversary – The Great Train Robbery – 50th Anniversary – 1963-2103, and is said to explain first-hand the complete story of the crime that claimed headlines around the world.
Both Biggs and Reynolds, who died in February, contributed to the book, which has been written by Reynolds’ son Nick, and Biggs’ autobiographer Chris Pickard.
The men who discovered that crime does not pay
Gang-leader Reynolds was nicknamed Napoleon and fled to Mexico on a false passport where he was joined by his wife, Angela, and son, Nick. Five years after the heist, in 1968, a broke Reynolds was captured in Torquay and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was released on parole in 1978 and moved, alone and penniless, into a tiny flat in London. In the 1980s he was jailed for three years for dealing amphetamines. He died in his sleep in the early hours of February 28.
Biggs played a minor role in the robbery, but his life as a fugitive after escaping from prison gained him notoriety. He went over the wall of London’s Wandsworth prison in April 1965. After having plastic surgery, he lived as a fugitive for 36 years in Australia then Brazil. His health deteriorated in 2001 and he returned to the UK voluntarily and was jailed. He was finally freed in 2009 on “compassionate grounds”
RONALD “BUSTER” EDWARDS
An ex-boxer, club owner and small-time crook Edwards fled to Mexico but gave himself up in 1966. Edwards is widely believed to be the man who wielded the cosh on train driver Jack Mills He served nine years in jail and then became a familiar figure selling flowers outside Waterloo station. Edwards was found hanged in 1994 at the age of 62.
The gang’s ‘“treasurer’’ who gave each of the robbers their cut of the haul. He was jailed for 30 years but escaped after just four months. He was re-captured and served 10 more years in jail. Wilson was shot and killed by a hitman in Spain in 1990.
Sins of the father visit son
For the son of the man behind the Great Train Robbery, its legacy has been an “albatross” hanging over him throughout his life.
Nick Reynolds, 51, said growing up as the son of the mastermind had been both “a blessing and a curse”.
“To be honest it’s been a bit of an albatross really,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough in the nature of my work as an artist and a musician, I’ve done many many interviews.
“I think the first time in my life was about six months ago and it was the first time they never mentioned ‘son of’ or the band that I’m in.”