Ronnie Biggs Disrupts London Airport

50 years ago, in July 1965, it was not Plane Stupid disrupting the flights at London Airport, but Ronnie Biggs.

At 2 am on the morning of 14 July 1965, six days after his escape, fifty police officers swooped on a DC-7 cargo plane at London Airport that was bound later that day for Amsterdam. They had a tip off that Biggs was hidden in one of the crates.

After an hour, the search was called off. This was another embarrassment for the police who on 9 July 1965 had raided Winterfold House in Cranleigh Surrey, then the home of Prince Carol of Rumania. The house and grounds were searched by over 150 police officers looking for Biggs.

The police sealed off four square miles of woods, grassland and lanes around the mansion. Twenty radio cars kept the police squads in touch. The following day, 10 July, the police raided the Upton House Estate, which Prince Carol rented from Poole Council. The police said at the time that they were following more tips that Biggs had been seen, but nobody really knows why Prince Carol was linked to him.

50th anniversary of Ronnie Biggs’ escape from HMP Wandsworth

On Thursday, 8 July 1965 Ronnie Biggs escaped over the wall of HMP Wandsworth in London. It was the first day of 13,068 on the run. He would hand himself in on 7 May 2001.

Here is the story of the day of the escape in Ron’s own words from his autobiography “Odd Man Out: The Last Straw“.

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.”

Bruce Reynolds

 

Ronnie Biggs’ “Keep on Running” is published on Kindle

To mark what would have been Ronnie Biggs 85th birthday on 8 August 2014, his first and only novel, Keep on Running, has been published on Kindle for the first time.

Keep on Running is a novel that draws on the true events surrounding the Great Train Robbery. It gives a dramatic account of what may have happened to the three men at the track who were never caught or charged. It covers their lives before, during and in the years immediately after the robbery in August 1963. It also features the shadowy character known to people on both sides of the law as the Ulsterman, and provides a dramatic solution to the puzzle as to whether or not there was a shipment of jewels on board the train and, if there was, why the owner never came forward.

The book is Ronnie Biggs’ only novel, although he was very active in writing both poetry and lyrics, most famously for the Sex Pistols and Die Toten Hosen. He had also been involved in writing the screenplay for the film Prisoner of Rio.

Ron was invited to write a novel by Bloomsbury, the original publisher of his autobiography Odd Man Out. The invite came after that book had become one of Bloomsbury’s top sellers in 1994, and in fact, of all time. The publisher asked for a follow-‐up novel and suggested to Ron that he should base it around the Great Train Robbery, as that is what he was best known for and what his fans would want.

Ron would hope that you his friends and fans enjoy the book as much as he did in writing it. The book stands as it was published in 1995, with only a few very minor tweaks, such as the prologue, to bring it up to date.

As somebody noted at the time: “With Keep on Running, Britain’s most lovable rogue has produced a gripping, imaginative and highly entertaining novel.”

The Kindle version of Keep on Running: A Story from the Great Train Robbery  is available globally direct from your local Amazon or Kindle store.

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50 Years on from the draconian sentencing of the Great Train Robbers

 

On 16 April 1964, following on from the guilty verdict against Ronnine Biggs the previous day, the court reconvened at 10.30 a.m. The members of the Great Train Robbery gang in custody were not taken back to the court where the trial had been held, but instead were taken instead to the Assizes where they could all be held and locked in the cells before being brought in to court one by one for sentencing.

It takes Mr Justice Edmund Davies just 28 minutes to sentence 12 of the men. Most of the sentences are for two concurrent sentences, the crimes being: ‘robbery – being armed with an offensive weapon’ (30 years / 10,957 days) and ‘conspire / robbery with violence’ (25 years / 9,130 days).

Seven of gang get 30-year sentences, two get 25 years, one gets 24 years, one gets 20 years and one gets three years. The order of sentencing is Roger Cordrey (20 years) / William Boal (24 years) / Charlie Wilson (30 years) / Ronald Biggs (30 years) / Thomas Wisbey (30 years) / Robert Welch (30 years) / James Hussey (30 years) / Roy James (30 years) / Gordon Goody (30 years) / Brian Field (25 years) / Leonard Field (25 years) / John Wheater (3 years).

Twelve men are jailed for a total of 307 years, although the total sentences are for 573 years as some sentences run concurrently. On appeal they will be reduced from 307 years to 251 years.

The Great Train Robbery trial had lasted for 51 workings days over a period of 10 weeks. Evidence had been heard from 264 witnesses, and an estimated 2.5 million words had been spoken. There were 2,350 witness statements and 1,700 exhibits. The words filled over 30,000 foolscap pages. The cost of the trial was estimated at £38,733 (about £650,000 by 2013 values). The 12 jurors, all men, were paid 50 shillings a day (about £40 in 2013 values).

At no point in the trial was any evidence presented to prove that any of the accused had been at the scene of the robbery on the morning of 8 August 1963.

The trial over, the gang were split up amongst some of Britain’s most secure prisons. Bruce Reynolds watched the news of the sentencing on the 6 p.m. BBC TV News. His comment is: “They have created a monster that will haunt them forever.”

It is worth noting that on 30 September 1963, six months prior to sentencing the Great Train Robbers to 30 years,  Mr Justice Edmund Davies, had declared that a sentence of 15 years was “excessive” for a man involved in a robbery where a person was shot and killed. He reduced the sentence on appeal to 10 years. The robbers involved had expected to find £6,000 on the premises but only stole £517.

In 1968, when Reynolds was finally captured, it is noted in the press that a night porter who set fire to a Brighton Hotel to get rid of some late customers, and who caused the death of seven people, is sentenced to just five years. A man, who kills a barmaid by putting cyanide in her Guinness because she did not serve him a sandwich, also gets five years.

50 years since the opening of the Great Train Robbery trial

The Great Train Robbery trial opened on 20 January 1964 at the Buckingham Winter Assizes at the District Council Chamber in Aylesbury. Charges were mainly ‘conspiracy to stop a mail with intent to rob said mail’. The accused were placed in a specially constructed dock. There were seats for sixty people in the public gallery.

Forty counsel, including 12 QCs were involved. Arthur James QC lead the prosecution. The 12-man jury was made up entirely of men. The judge was Mr Justice Edmund Davies.

Every morning, afternoon and evening of the working week for the following three months the accused would be locked into small individual compartments in a police bus, commonly known as a Black Maria. Then with an escort of at least four police cars and a dozen or so motorcycle police, they made the ten- minute journey to-and-from the prison and council chamber.

Caught “bang to rights”, Cordrey (photo) pleaded guilty at 10.27 am on the first day of the trial to conspiracy to stop the mail and receiving large sums of money from the robbery. He pleaded not guilty to robbery with aggravation. The court accepted his plea and he was returned to prison to await sentencing.

Music at Ronnie Biggs’ Funeral

Ron entered the chapel at Golders Green Crematorium with the London Dixieland Jazz Band playing Just a Closer Walk with Thee. The congregation sung Abide with Me, while a favourite of Ron’s, Bunny Berigan’s I Can’t Get Started, was played during the service.

Members of Alabama 3, including Nick Reynolds, performed the Seekers The Carnival is Over. Luiz Bonfá’s Manhã de Carnaval, from Black Orpheus was also played. Ron then departed to David Rose’s The Stripper and the London Dixieland Jazz Band playing Arthur Kent’s Bring Me Sunshine.

Music played while the guests awaited Ron’s arrival included: Midnight Cowboy, John Barry; Oblivion, Astor Piazzolla; Gnattali: Remexendo, Camerata Brazil; Misty, Erroll Garner; Smile, Madeleine Peyroux; The Good Life, Tony Bennett; I’ll Never Find Another You, The Seekers; Girl From Ipanema, Astrud and Joao Gilberto; Insensatez, Antonio Carlos Jobim; Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong; It Ain’t Necessarily So, Oscar Peterson; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, Ella Fitzgerald; Ela é Carioca. João Gilberto; Chega De Saudade, João Gilberto; Air On A G String, Jacques Loussier; Solace, Marvin Hamlisch; Bachianas Brasileiras No 5, Heitor Villa Lobos; Round About Midnight, Bill Evans; Luíza, Raphael Rabello; Tristeza, Separacion, Astor Piazzolla; Corcovado, Antonio Carlos Jobim; Blowin’ In The Wind, Bob Dylan; Best Is Yet To Come, Frank Sinatra; and Unforgettable, Nat King Cole.

The true and full story of the Great Train Robbery

With the BBC about to screen a two part fictional drama series about the Great Train Robbery in December 2013, A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale, now is the time to get hold of a copy of The Great Train Robbery 50th Anniversary: 1963-2013, the 132 page ‘bookazine’ that contains the full story and timeline of the robbery with contributions from both Ronnie Biggs and Bruce & Nick Reynolds.

Check in The Great Train Robbery 50th Anniversary: 1963-2013 to see where fact and fiction collide, and see why truth is very often stranger than fiction.

On sale from Calm Productions or through Amazon

To see the first trailer to the BBC series CLICK HERE

A Christmas Treat from Ronnie Biggs

For Christmas Ron has persuaded his publisher to offer his best-selling books at special festive rates so that you can now buy the hardback version of his autobiography, Odd Man Out: The Last Straw, for just £9.99 (RRP: £19.99), and the The Great Train Robbery 50th Anniversary:1963-2013, the new 132 page ‘bookazine’ that contains for the first time the full story of the robbery as told by Bruce Reynolds and Ron, for just £4.99.

With the bookazine you will be able to check exactly what is real in the upcoming BBC drama about the Great Train Robbery.

To order go direct to the publisher’s own web site by clicking below:

Odd Man Out: The Last Straw

The Great Train Robbery 50th Anniversary:1963-2013