What is wrong with the British national health system? In 2001 a celebrity minor criminal called Ronald Arthur Biggs returned to his home country after a successful 36-year world tour and he has been confined to hospital ever since.
Jack Straw, the British Justice Secretary, is “letting him out” of hospital tomorrow to celebrate his 80th birthday. But it is doubtful that Biggs will be able to fulfill his stated desire on his return to “walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter”. He has pneumonia and will surely die.
Ronnie Biggs was a minor member of the team that robbed the Glasgow to London Royal Mail train in 1963 of £2.6m in used notes (now worth about $100 million). But he became the most notorious because he escaped from jail and the police couldn’t find him.
Ronnie was a Lambeth boy from S’arf London who went off the rails (so to speak) and ended up in singing for punk bands. He was a very ordinary person who did a very extraordinary thing: he spent 36 years on the lam — cocking a snook at the law’s longest arm.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Newspapers have always played a big part in Ronnie’s rise and fall. Melbourne’s other defunct evening newspaper Newsday (which the Kookas use to distribute and steal from when they were yoofs) claims to have found him in October 1969 living in Blackburn North and painting sets at the Channel Nine studios in Richmond.
After five months hiding out with Melbourne mates, he caught a tramp steamer to Panama and so ended his five years as Aussie Ronnie. But he was to have 31 additional years in Brazil living the high and low life as Rio Ronnie.
London’s Daily Express (when it was still one of Fleet Street’s finest) found him there in 1974 but the Old Bill let him slip through their fingers as Britain did not have an extradition treaty with Brazil and his Brazilian girlfriend was up the duff.
Finally, in 2001, Rupert’s Sun flew him home in great luxury in exchange for an exclusive interview. He was serving 30 years when he hopped-it over the wall at Wandsworth prison in 1965 and the British justice system required him to complete his debt to society.
Ronnie always argued that he had served his time in Australia and Brazil and all he wanted to do now was to die in peace with his family: “I am an old man and often wonder if I truly deserve the extent of my punishment. I have accepted it and only want freedom to die with my family and not in jail. I hope Mr Straw decides to allow me to do that. I have been in jail for a long time and I want to die a free man. I am sorry for what happened. It has not been an easy ride over the years. Even in Brazil I was a prisoner of my own making.”
The Kookas are of the belief that in most circumstances crime does not pay unless you are at the top of the tree. There appears to be no evidence that Ronnie was ever “top of the tree” in the 15-man Great Train Robbery and he would have been lucky to score 100,000 pounds from the snatch. There is also no evidence that he anything to do with hitting the train driver Jack Mills on the head during the robbery.
Enjoy your freedom Ronnie, while it lasts.