Thursday 8 July, one year and eleven months to the day since the robbery, the sun rose brightly over London and I sensed that this was going to be the day. Charmian, who must have been getting fed up of traipsing off to museums with the kids as an alibi, set off for Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. She also thought that after the disappointment of Wednesday this would be the day.
Never had the exercise yard look so good. The time was 2.30 p.m. I felt like peeing with pleasure – so after about half an hour we headed for the toilets, where – surprise, surprise – Brian and Jock were to be found just shaking the drops off as we arrived.
‘Tell me, do you boys hang around here all the time?’ I said. With his back to the screw, who was watching closely to make sure that no one was having a crafty smoke, Eric Flower checked the time by his watch and gave a nod. It was close to 3.00 p.m. The four of us joined the other cons on exercise.
As we drew level with the wall I heard the sound of a heavy vehicle on the other side. I stopped to tie my shoelace, looking up at the wall. Suddenly a head in a nylon stocking appeared. A split second later the first of the rope ladders came snaking down the wall. As Eric and I made for them the screws came running, blowing their whistles. Brian and Jock went into action.
As I cocked my leg over the wall Paul Seabourne, the man in the nylon mask, greeted me.
‘Hello, you big ugly bastard!’ I gave him a slap on the back and looked down at the mêlée in the prison yard. My boys were hanging on to the screws as if they loved them.
‘You’re too late,’ Brian shouted gleefully, ‘Biggsy’s away.’
The truck was parked close to the wall, something that would be unthinkable today, so it was an easy matter to drop onto the roof. A large rectangular opening had been cut in the van to allow a five-foot hinged platform to be pushed up through the roof giving Paul those vital extra feet needed to reach the top of the wall and throw the rope ladders down. On the floor of the van were a number of old mattresses for us to jump down on to. A getaway car was parked nearby with Paul’s trusty friend, Ronnie Leslie, at the wheel. Two other cons seized the opportunity to follow us over the wall and because of this Paul never got to burn the truck as he had planned.
Besides Ronnie Leslie, a motor mechanic who had worked on converting the van, there was a third member of the escape team, Ronnie Black, a Ron who I had had my doubts about.
Ronnie Black had spent time with me in Wandsworth where he had proved to be a bit of a hothead. The last thing I wanted was to have any kind of violence or guns. No guns and no violence was a strict rule and Paul had grudgingly agreed to go along with this. I got pissed off, therefore, when I heard the rules had been broken and there had been a shotgun involved. But Paul just offered to put me back inside. There is also a story that before we got over the wall Blackie had locked some screw’s child in an outside toilet after he had emerged suddenly from a house.
As Eric and I scrambled into the car with Paul and the two Ronnies, the other two Special Watch cons, Robert Anderson and Patrick Doyle, came racing to the car looking for a lift.
‘Let ‘em in,’ I shouted. They piled in and we zoomed off full of the joys of being sprung.
We had made it! We had done it! We had fucking escaped from Wandsworth!
Despite the initial euphoria we still had a long way to go. The car raced around the perimeter wall, all seven of us piled inside. It was the only route to freedom and the main road. As we sped off our route to freedom was nearly blocked by a prison work party with a dustcart. Happily the screw, not knowing who we were, pulled them off the road and waved us through. If he had left the cart in the road our exit would have been blocked.
We drove on, four of us desperately trying to tear off our tell-tell Special Watch prison uniforms. A police car passed us going in the other direction, but there never seemed any danger of being stopped.
Even without being chased or followed we went through with Paul’s plan. It took us to a quiet cul-de-sac close to the prison where we dumped the first car and ran up a footpath leading to a second car. If Old Bill had been in pursuit we would have run down the alley and hoped they did not have a second car waiting.
As the second car had been hired on a dodgy brief we told the two opportunists they could use it after they had dropped us off and go as far as they liked until the next day, when a scream would go out for it. The first to be dropped off were the two Ronnies at Tooting Bec Station. The five of us then went on to Dulwich where Eric, Paul and I left the car close to our destination. Our final address was not something we necessarily wanted to broadcast to our uninvited guests who, without a plan, were more likely than us to get picked up.
Even after all these years I can’t help thinking about the king sized bollocking the governor at Wandsworth must have got for the manner of my escape. That was just fine with me because he had not believed me when I said I did not want any special treatment but wanted to be treated like every other con. He had said that it could not be. When I told him that everything he was doing was going to drive me over the wall, he saw this as insolence. I was not trying to be insolent, I was trying to be perfectly honest, man-to-man, and show that it would be too much for me to endure. In the end I think I proved my point.
Charmian heard of my escape on the four o’clock radio news when they first announced that four men had gone over the wall of Wandsworth, one of whom was ‘believed’ to be train robber Ronald Biggs.
“If Charlie’s escape had been audacious, then Ronnie’s was downright cheeky.”