Biggs: society’s anti-hero

Ronald Biggs, the criminal hailed by the British tabloids as “The greatest criminal in the 20th Century”, is back behind bars, his 36-year carnival over. Ronald Biggs, along with 11 other members of a gang, performed the since-glamorised “Great Train Robbery” in 1965. All were arrested, but Biggs managed to escape from prison after 14 months of a 30-year sentence. The fact that he eluded Scotland Yard for so long turned him into a hero. Society loves a champion of the poor, and Biggs was the epitome of the popular hero. Growing up as a child in the bomb-destroyed streets of East London, the city’s poorest zone, he would rummage through ruins trying to find things to sell. The poor little boy story. Then his suntanned face, his crafty smile and the sparkling blue eyes, surrounded by Brazilian babes, beaming from the pages of the British press, made him every young boy’s role model, every woman’s fantasy. Criminals from Biggs’ days had a code of honour and there is no doubt that compared to some of today’s villains, Biggs does not come across as evil by any means. But the fact of the matter is that this selfish criminal, (for that is what he is, despite his statement “I always liked to differentiate between crooks and criminals. I see myself as an ex-crook. I don’t see myself as a criminal”) spent his life using people to satisfy his own selfish ends. By 15, he was already convicted of shoplifting. Two years later, he was discharged from the Royal Air Force, for burglary and one month after he came out of jail, he was again convicted for theft of a car. When he was 21, he robbed a shop and threw a vase at a woman who refused to give him her handbag. He married a 17-year-old girl when he was 27, and forced her to steal Ј200 from the petty cash at work, as a test. While he was working as a carpenter, going straight, he contacted his ex-cellmate in prison, Bruce Reynolds and it was then that the plans for the Great Train robbery were hatched. The biggest ever robbery, it was well planned and executed. 11 unarmed men forced the overnight Glasgow to London royal Mail train to stop – and simply stole Ј2.6 million, which would be worth around Ј50 million nowadays. The train driver was hurt during the crime, but claims that he died from his injuries are dubious, since he died seven years later from leukaemia. All eleven members of the gang were jailed, Biggs being the only one to escape. After flying to Paris, he spent Ј40,000 of his Ј147,000 on plastic surgery, then flew to Australia, where his wife and three sons followed. However, after discovering that Scotland Yard were on his trail, he flew to Rio de Janeiro, telling his wife he would call her. He never did. It was here that he discovered that if he “had a child” with a Brazilian lady, he could not be extradited for 21 years. As it happened, he had already met a stripper called Xu Xu, who gave him the son he needed, Mike. She departed for her stripping career and Biggs brought up Mike alone. While it must be said that Biggs was an excellent father, the fact that he “had” a son just to escape justice is further proof of his selfishness. After a lifetime of glamour in the tropics, evading justice and foiling numerous attempts by Scotland Yard to bring him back to Britain, the scenes awaiting his arrival at Northolt Air Force Base seemed more befitting of a welcoming visit for Martians. What stepped out of the plane was not a little green man with three eyes, but not far from it. Gone was the strapping, good-looking charmer. A tired, sick, frail, drooling, saddened old man shuffled into a police vehicle as 90 police officers, 12 police vans, 14 RAF police, complete with teams of dogs, patrolled the airport. He was taken to a court, where his 36-year Carnival ended in just eight minutes. Ronald Biggs’ past has caught up with him. He will now pay for his (many) crimes, like everyone else.


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