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Biggs family vow to fight on

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: July 02, 2009

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Ronnie Biggs

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The family of Ronnie Biggs vowed to fight on for his freedom after Justice Secretary Jack Straw condemned the Great Train Robber to a likely death behind bars.

Mr Straw rejected a parole board recommendation that the 79-year-old be released, saying Biggs was “wholly unrepentant” about his crimes.

Biggs would have been a free man “many years ago” if he had complied with the sentence given to him, Mr Straw said.

The decision was branded “perverse” by Biggs’s legal advisor, who accused Mr Straw of “cruel and unusual punishment”.

Biggs’s son Michael said the decision “beggars belief”.

He compared his father’s sentence to shorter jail terms handed out to other criminals, including Baby P’s killers, adding: “This is not justice.”

Biggs is seriously unwell, having suffered a series of strokes. He cannot eat or speak, can barely walk and last weekend broke his hip when he fell out of his bed in Norwich Prison.

He is now in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital where sources said his condition had deteriorated in the past 24 hours and he was now regarded as “poorly”.

His son added that the hospital had confirmed to him that his father was in a “life-threatening” condition.

He said: “If this is the British legal system, it is appalling, it’s beyond comprehension.

“He is totally incapacitated, he was never a violent man.

“He cannot walk, he cannot talk, he cannot read or write, he cannot drink - how can he take any reoffending courses?”

He pleaded with Mr Straw to change his mind.

He added: “I hope that Mr Straw finds it in his heart to review his recommendation not to release my father. He represents no threat to society whatsoever.

“My father has paid his debt to society – what more could they want?”

In a statement, Mr Straw said: “Mr Biggs chose to serve only one year of a 30-year sentence before he took the personal decision to commit another offence and escape from prison, avoiding capture by travelling abroad for 35 years whilst outrageously courting the media.

“I am refusing the Parole Board’s recommendation for parole. Biggs chose not to obey the law and respect the punishments given to him – the legal system in this country deserves more respect than this.

“It was Mr Biggs’s own choice to offend and he now appears to want to avoid the consequences of his decision. I do not think this is acceptable.”

Biggs was eligible for release on Friday, having served 10 years of his 30-year sentence.

The Parole Board, which met earlier this month, recommended his release saying he posed a “manageable” threat to the public.

But it noted he was unrepentant about fleeing prison and going on the run for 35 years.

Mr Straw has the power to reject its recommendations under sentencing rules in place when Biggs was convicted.

The Parole Board is unlikely to look again at the decision for many months. Biggs’s parole has to be reviewed again within two years.

Biggs’s legal adviser, Giovanni Di Stefano, said he was planning to launch a judicial review to try to have it overturned.

“All the other Great Train Robbers served a third of their sentences. Why should Ronnie Biggs be any different?” he said.

“Ten years is enough. This shows a side of the British Government that is perverse – it is cruel and unusual punishment.”

Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook, said the decision was “sheer vindictiveness”.

“Jack Straw says Mr Biggs is unrepentant, and he may be right. But that’s not the issue: it’s about whether a frail, elderly old man, who cannot walk or talk and who has to be fed through a tube should still be in prison almost half a century after he committed the crime which put him there.

“Ronnie Biggs poses no risk at all to the public – Jack Straw poses more of a risk to the public than Ronnie Biggs ever will.”

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, the probation officers’ union said: “It is difficult to see how he poses a threat to anyone apart from politicians.”

But Keith Norman, general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers’ union, backed the decision.

He said the robbery left train driver Jack Mills with serious injuries and Biggs was not a “cheeky chappy”.

“Biggs is not some cheeky chappy, romantic Robin Hood figure.

“He is a petty thief who was involved in a violent crime that left Jack Mills seriously harmed while he was going about his work.

“He was attacked with an axe handle, handcuffed to the second man, tossed into the engine compartment and never fully recovered.”

Biggs, from Lambeth, south London, was a member of a 15-strong gang which attacked the Glasgow to London mail train at Ledburn, Buckinghamshire, in August 1963, and made off off with £2.6 million in used banknotes.

He was given the 30-year sentence but after 15 months he escaped from Wandsworth prison in south-west London by climbing a 30ft wall and fleeing in a furniture van.

He was on the run for more than 30 years, living in Spain, Australia and Brazil, before returning to the UK voluntarily in 2001 in search of medical treatment.

He was locked up in Belmarsh high security prison on his return before being moved to a specialist medical unit at Norwich prison.

The decision means Biggs will not be free to celebrate his 80th birthday on August 8, 46 years to the day since the raid.

Michael Biggs insisted today that his father had expressed regret for his crime and vowed to keep fighting for his release.

“My father has served the same amount of time as any of the train robbers and by the Government’s rules has been rehabilitated,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said that Biggs had said he regretted his crime in an autobiography published in 1994.

“We are going to appeal because according to the Government my father is unrepentant about this crime,” he added.

“Now, we have to continue fighting because my father has publicly said he is sorry about what has happened.”

He accused the Government of releasing terrorists, paedophiles, rapists and psychopaths.

“Why should my father not be entitled to the same rights as paedophiles, rapists and psychopaths in this country?”

Here is a timetable charting Ronald Biggs’s life since the Great Train Robbery:

About one month after the robbery, Biggs and other members of the gang were tracked down by police after an operation led by Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper.

:: January 1964 – Biggs stands trial for the robbery and is jailed for 30 years.

:: July 7, 1965 – After serving just 15 months, he escapes from London’s Wandsworth Prison by scaling a wall and jumping on to a mattress in an open-top van.

:: The same year Biggs took his wife Charmian and sons to Spain and spent two months convalescing after having plastic surgery in France to change his appearance.

:: 1969 – Biggs is tracked by Scotland Yard to Melbourne, Australia, and flees to Brazil.

:: 1970 – The mail train driver Jack Mills, who never made a full recovery after being coshed during the robbery, dies.

:: 1971 – Biggs’s son Nicky dies in a car crash aged 10.

:: 1974 – Biggs makes a deal with the Daily Express amid rumours he would surrender if assured an early parole date, but the paper contacts detective Jack Slipper who arrests him in Rio de Janeiro. The train robber successfully argued against extradition because he had a Brazilian dependant, a young son Michael, by his girlfriend Raimunda.

:: April 1977 – Biggs goes aboard the British frigate Danae, in Rio for a courtesy visit, for a few drinks but surprisingly is not arrested.

:: 1978 – He records No One Is Innocent for the Sex Pistols and also raises money by selling T-shirts of himself and entertaining Japanese tourists.

:: March 1981 – Biggs is kidnapped in Rio by a gang of adventurers and smuggled to Barbados by boat. Their aim is to bring him back to Britain. The Barbados High Court decides the rules governing extradition to Britain had not been properly put before the island’s parliament, and Biggs is allowed to return to Rio.

:: 1988 – Pop star Phil Collins stars in Buster, a film based on the train robbery.

:: January 1994 – Biggs publishes his autobiography Odd Man Out.

:: 1997 – The Brazilian supreme court rejects a new request by the British Government to extradite him.

:: March 1998 – The fugitive collapses at his home in Rio and suffered a stroke which temporarily left him unable to speak.

:: August 8, 1999 – Biggs celebrates his 70th birthday in the company of 140 friends including fellow Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds, 36 years to the day after their infamous crime.

:: September 1999 – Biggs appears in a worldwide TV advert for hair grafts. In the same month he suffers his second stroke, followed by a third stroke 12 days later.

:: May 3, 2001 – After 35 years on the run, Ronnie Biggs sends an email to Scotland Yard saying he wanted to come home.

:: May 6, 2001 – The plane carrying Biggs takes off from Rio de Janeiro airport en route for UK.

:: May 7, 2001 – Biggs arrives on a private plane at RAF Northolt, and is immediately arrested. He is later sent back to prison.

Within weeks Biggs was in hospital receiving treatment for a suspected stroke. He spent much of his time in the prison hospital at Belmarsh after suffering a series of heart attacks, strokes and epileptic seizures.

:: January 30, 2002 – The Criminal Cases Review Commission rejects an application to send Biggs’s case to the Court of Appeal. He argued his sentence was inappropriate and unnecessary.

:: March 28, 2002 – Biggs’s lawyers lodges papers at the High Court arguing his is an “exceptional case” and should be sent back to the Court of Appeal.

:: July 10, 2002 – Biggs marries Brazilian former Samba dancer Raimunda Rothen, the mother of his son Michael, in a private ceremony at Belmarsh jail attended by 11 guests.

:: January 13, 2003 – Michael claims his father was punched and “karate kicked” by a prison officer in Belmarsh.

:: August 8, 2003 – 40th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery.

:: October 2, 2003 – Biggs’s attempt to appeal against his sentence is thrown out by a High Court judge who calls it “hopeless” and “misconceived”. His son Michael complained that his father was not given legal aid to fight the case and announces plans to go to the European Court of Human Rights.

:: August 2004 – Lawyers for the Great Train Robber launched a High Court bid to secure his release on compassionate grounds.

:: December 2005 – An appeal to home secretary Charles Clarke for a pardon is rejected.

:: July 2007 – Biggs is moved from Belmarsh high security prison in south east London to Norwich Prison, where he lives on a unit for elderly inmates.

:: April 2009 – Biggs applies for parole. He is eligible for release because he has served one-third of his sentence. A final decision is delayed while arrangements are made for the 24-hour care he will require.

:: June 25, 2009 – A Parole Board recommends to Justice Secretary Jack Straw that Biggs be released, saying the risk of him reoffending is “manageable”.

:: June 28, 2009 – Biggs is taken to hospital with a broken hip and a chest infection.

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