Ronnie Biggs: ‘I’m proud of Great Train Robbery’

The seven men involved in the Great Rain Robbery of 1963. Picture: PA
The seven men involved in the Great Rain Robbery of 1963. Picture: PA
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Fifty years after the Great Train Robbery, gang member Ronnie Biggs has said he is proud to have been part of the gang.

On 8 August it will be 50 years since the robbers, led by Bruce Reynolds, stopped the Glasgow to Euston mail train in the biggest robbery of its time.

Robbed: The Glasgow to Euston mail train. Picture: PA

Robbed: The Glasgow to Euston mail train. Picture: PA

Many of the gang have died, but half a century on from the crime, Biggs will celebrate his 84th birthday on the same day.

The famous fugitive, who escaped prison in 1965, spent 36 years on the run before finally being arrested and 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, he said yesterday.

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 he 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 the Great Train Robbery are the families. The families of everyone involved in the Great Train Robbery, and from both sides of the track.”

A new book, The Great Train Robbery – 50th Anniversary – 1963-2103, claims to explain first-hand the complete story of the robbery.

Both Biggs and Reynolds, who died in February, contributed to the book, which has been written by Reynolds’ son, Nick, along with Biggs’ autobiographer, Chris Pickard.

Mr Reynolds and Mr Pickard said the book was an aim at “setting the record straight”, and putting right any inaccuracies in a tale that has become folklore.

Mr Reynolds, 51, said that although his father regretted the injuries suffered by train driver Jack Mills, he too had few regrets about the crime he had planned.

“There was no intention to hit him, it was completely unnecessary. From that point of view my dad had regrets.”

But he added: “My dad said if he was alive today and if he was asked would he have done it today knowing everything if he was the same age, yes he would have done.”

Mr Pickard, 56, who became friends with Biggs after they met in Rio and went on to work with him on his autobiography, said when he was released from prison in 2009, nobody knew he would live to see the 50th anniversary of the robbery.

“When he was released he was an extremely ill man. At least twice, the hospital had called Michael, his son, and said ‘you had better come, it’s a matter of hours’.

“But once he was released and could be treated in hospital, the doctors managed to stem the infection. Ron is a great fighter.”

Whatever happened to the gang?

1 Ronald “Buster” Edwards: Widely believed to be the man who hit train driver Jack Mills over the head. Served nine years in jail. Played by Phil Collins in the 1988 film Buster. Was found hanged in a garage in 1994 at the age of 62.

2 Tommy Wisbey: A bookie and self-confessed ‘’heavy’’ whose job in the heist was to frighten the train staff. Sentenced to 30 years and released in 1976. He was jailed for another ten years in 1989 for cocaine dealing.

3 Jimmy White: A former paratrooper, described as ‘’quartermaster’’ for the robbery. After three years on the run, he was caught and sentenced to 18 years. Released in 1975. He has now died.

4 Bruce Reynolds: Gang-leader Reynolds fled to Mexico but the cash from the robbery ran out and he returned to England. Captured in Torquay in 1968 and sentenced to 25 years in jail. In the 1980s, was jailed for three years for dealing amphetamines. Died 28 February this year.

5 Roger Cordrey: Jailed for 20 years, reduced to 14 on appeal.Released in 1971 and he went back to the flower business, moving to the West Country. He has now died.

6 Charlie Wilson: Jailed for 30 years but escaped after four months. Recaptured and spent ten years in jail. Moved to Spain, where he was shot and killed by a hitman on a bicycle in 1990.

7 James Hussey: Sentenced to 30 years and released in 1975. Convicted for assault in 1981 and in 1989 was jailed for seven years for a drug smuggling conspiracy with fellow train robber Wisbey. Died November 2012, aged 79, from cancer.

8 Ronald Arthur “Ronnie” Biggs: Played a minor role in the robbery, but his life as a fugitive after escaping from prison gained him notoriety. After having plastic surgery, he lived as a fugitive for 36 years. Jailed in 2001, he was freed in 2009 on “compassionate grounds”.

‘Albatross’ round son’s neck

For the son of the man behind the Great Train Robbery, its legacy has been an “albatross” hanging around his neck.

Nick Reynolds, 51, an artists and musician with the group Alabama 3, said growing up as the son of the mastermind behind the famous crime 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 and 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 and I thought, ‘I’m 50 years old and I’m finally a man in my own right’.”

Bruce Reynolds died in February this year, aged 81.