August 8, 2009 in Nation/World

Infamous British criminal set free

Ill thief prized ‘Great Train Robbery’ fame
Henry Chu Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

“Great Train Robber” Ronnie Biggs is seen in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in 1997.
(Full-size photo)

LONDON – One of Britain’s most notorious criminals was formally released from prison Friday – but will mark his 80th birthday today in a hospital bed.

Ronnie Biggs, a member of the gang behind Britain’s infamous “Great Train Robbery” of 1963, was given his walking papers Friday after having spent the last eight years behind bars. But in practice, that meant that British authorities withdrew the prison guards who have been monitoring him in the hospital since Tuesday.

Sick with pneumonia and weakened by strokes, Biggs is unable to walk or feed himself and appears unlikely to recover, much less pose a threat to society, which convinced British officials to grant his release on “compassionate grounds.”

“It smells of freedom,” Biggs’ delighted son, Michael Biggs, told reporters.

For decades, Ronnie Biggs has been synonymous in Britain not only with the heist he helped commit but also with the guile that enabled him to escape from prison after his conviction in 1964. As a fugitive abroad in countries including Australia and Brazil, he attained cult status for his open defiance of British authorities and a colorful life.

Today is the 46th anniversary of the robbery that took place on Biggs’ 34th birthday.

In 2001, Biggs decided it was time to return to his homeland, despite knowing he would probably be arrested upon arrival, which is what happened.


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