The Trial

The Great Train Robbery trial opened on 20 January 1964 at the District Council Chamber in Aylesbury. Lord Chief Justice Edmund Davies was the presiding judge. The gang was transported each day from the prison to the court in a heavily guarded police bus.

The charge was ‘conspiracy to stop a mail with intent to rob said mail’. Caught “bang to rights”, Cordrey pleaded guilty. Finger print evidence was presented and Jack Mills gave evidence.

Karin Field, wife of Brian Field, was approached and asked for £3,000 to bribe the jury. Wilson told his wife to meet the would be extortionist at a house in Clapham. The extortionist was met by friends of Wilson who attempted to nail him to tree on Clapham Common. He escaped.

On 6 February the retrial of Ronald Biggs was ordered after Inspector Basil Morris lets slip that Biggs had served time in prison. On 11 February the prosecution rested and the defence started. The defence won a quick victory when on 14 February John Daly was acquitted.

The trial’s summing up took four days. What was agreed was that the prosecution could not prove who had been at the track, even how many. Instead the jury were told that the prosecution’s case was to link Leatherslade Farm to the robbery, and if they could place people at the farm this was proof enough of their guilt in the train robbery.

On 23 March the jury retired after a 49-day trial. The trial formally ended on 26 March with a guilty verdict on all the gang members charged.

On 8 April Biggs’ retrial got underway. It lasted only until 14 April when a guilty verdict was swiftly reached. The following day Lord Chief Justice Edmund Davies passed sentence on Great Train Robbery gang.

The gang was not taken back to the court, but to the Assizes where they could be held and locked in the cells before being brought in to court one-by-one to hear their sentence.

Most of gang received concurrent sentences of 30 years (10,957 days) and 25 years. The crime was ‘robbery – being armed with an offensive weapon’ (30 years) and ‘conspire / robbery with violence’ (25 years).

The trial had lasted in total 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. The words filled over 30,000 foolscap pages. The 12 jurors, who were paid 50 shillings a day, had examined 613 exhibits and listened to 21 barristers.

After the sentences were handed down the gang were split up amongst some of Britain’s most secure prisons. Biggs was transferred to HMP Lincoln.

In March Reynolds made his preparations to leave the UK and in May he slipped out of Britain for Mexico. First step was by plane to Ostend and then on to Brussels. On 6 June Reynolds stepped on to Mexican soil after taking a Sabena flight from Brussels to Mexico City. He travelled as “K.C. Miller”.

His wife Frances stayed behind in the UK to be reunited with her son Nick. To do so, she went to Scotland Yard and asked to see Butler. She was questioned for over five hours, but she did not break. Frances Reynolds headed for Mexico after being reunited with Nick who has been looked after for her by Mary Manson for over 10 months. Mother and son travelled as Angela and Kevin Green. Frances would become known as Angela for the rest of her life.

Reynolds and Edwards followed what was going on in the UK with the gang by listening to the BBC World Service and reading the Telegraph and Times when they could get a copy.

The appeals were heard in London from 13-14 July at the Old Bailey. The gang were reunited at HMP Brixton for the appeals. Wilson, however, refused to attend the appeal. Cordrey and Boal did get their sentences reduced to 14 years, while Brian Field, as a gentleman and member of the establishment, had his sentence cut to 5 years. Following the appeal Biggs was transferred to HMP Wandsworth.

By not attending the appeal, Wilson was one of the few robbers not to be moved to another prison and on 12 August he escaped from HMP Winson Green, Birmingham. It was just one year and four days after the robbery. In April 1965, Wilson, who had been living in a safe house in Knightsbridge, left the UK for the South of France. He travelled in the name of “Alloway”. Buster Edwards and his family flew from Dusseldorf to Mexico City to visit Reynolds.

After Wilson’s escape, the other members of the gang all received extra tough treatment in prison. Many of them admitted later that they now looked more seriously at ways to escape. In June 1965 a plan by Goody to escape from HMP Strangeways in Manchester was uncovered.

On 8 July 1965, Ronnie Biggs escaped from HMP Wandsworth in London by climbing over the wall.

In August Prime Minister Harold Wilson suggested to the Treasury that they secretly replace all banknotes in the hope of flushing out the train robbers and the money from the robbery. Waxwork figures of Biggs and Charlie Wilson were now on display in the entrance to Madame Tussauds in London.

In October 1965 Biggs left London by boat to Antwerp and then by road to Paris. On 29 December Biggs flew from Paris to Sydney via Zurich, as “Terence Furminger”, a writer born on 13 June 1928.

In January 1966 some of the key train robbers were transferred to HMP Parkhurst on the Isle of White (Goody, James, Wisbey, Hussey, Welch, Cordrey).

On 8 February Die Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse (The Gentlemen Require Payment), a drama based around the Great Train Robbery, was first broadcast in West Germany. Horst Tappert played the part of Reynolds and the show was a major hit, even in East Germany. Three days later John Wheater was released from prison.

On 4 April The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery had its premiere in London and Life magazine ran a major feature Greatest Train Robbery Legend. The story of the Great Train Robbery was not going away. A week later the Sunday Express published photos of the “wanted” men, those gang members known to be still on the run. On 12 April Jimmy White was arrested in Littlestone-on-Sea. He would be sentenced to 18 years.

In September Edwards and his family decided to return to the UK. Edwards gave himself up on 19 September and was sentenced to 15 years at Nottingham Assizes. Half of what the other robbers had received as a sentence just two years previously. The judge decided that while Buster was ‘in the hierarchy’ he was ‘not one of the leading planners.’

Bruce Reynolds and family left Mexico in December 1965 and drove to visit Charlie Wilson for Christmas in Canada. They then moved on to the South of France.

In May 1967, Brian Field was released and in the August, Robbery, starring Stanley Baker and directed by Peter Yates, opened in London.

1968 saw the arrest of Charlie Wilson in Canada on 25 January, while Bruce Reynolds was arrested in Torquay, England, on 8 November. Reynolds was sentenced to 25 years in January 1969.

In October 1969 Biggs was traced to Melbourne, Australia. Armed police raided his house, but they missed him by hours. On 5 February 1970 Biggs left Australia on the RHMS Ellinis as “Michael Haynes”. Unknown to Biggs, the previous day driver Jack Mills, had died of lymphatic leukaemia.

Biggs arrived in Brazil on 11 March 1970. On 20 April, Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler, the Grey Fox, died, and on 26 June, William Boal, who was never a train robber, died in prison.

Next: Freedom