Ronnie Biggs on the day the Express paid him a fortune and called cops | Books | Entertainment
Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs
Great train robber Ronnie Biggs was relaxing in his trunks and thinking of the £35,000 fee a newspaper interview had just netted him, when he heard the knock at the door he had been dreading for nearly a decade.
Biggs instantly recognised the tall man who entered room 909 of the Trocadero Hotel on Copacabana beachfront as “Old Bill” from London and swore.
On his 34th birthday, in the early hours of August 8, 1963, Biggs was part of a 16-strong gang which boarded and robbed an overnight train in Buckinghamshire which was carrying sacks full of cash from Glasgow to London.
The brazen heist netted more than £2.6million (£50million today).
Twelve of the men, including Ronnie, were caught following a major manhunt.
In 1964 Biggs was jailed for 30 years, but in July 1965, after just 15 months inside Wandsworth Prison, he escaped.
READ MORE: Bigg’s boy ‘is not his son’
He travelled to Paris where he had a facelift in a bid to disguise himself – and was joined by wife Charmian.
They moved to Australia and had their third son Farley in April 1967.
In 1970 Biggs chose to move alone to Brazil under the name of Michael Haynes.
He enjoyed his time on the run with a string of girlfriends, but after three years he heard that dreaded knock on the door.
Biggs said: “I was sitting on the floor still wearing swimming trunks and, regardless of what has been written or reported in the past, I simply said, ‘Oh, f***!’
“To give him his full title, it was Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Slipper, head of Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad, who had stalked into the room.
“‘Long time, no see’, he said. ‘I think you know who I am? I certainly know who you are and I’m arresting you. Where are your clothes?’”
Ronnie Biggs under arrest, 1963
The late crook’s description of his arrest while on the run in Brazil features in a new posthumous autobiography to be published on the 60th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery on Tuesday.
It promises extraordinary new details about his time on the run.
The ‘‘autobiography” has been written by his pal Christopher Pickard, 10 years after his death on December 18, 2013.
Mr Pickard helped Biggs write his first autobiography Ronnie Biggs: Odd Man Out, The Last Straw, in 2011, but said: “Ron asked me to complete his story once he had left us stage left.”
Before Mr Slipper’s unexpected knock at the door, Biggs had been posing in his trunks with Brazilian girlfriend Raimunda Nascimento de Castro for Daily Express photographer Bill Lovelace.
The same morning she had also told Biggs she might be pregnant with what would be his fourth child. It was the third day Biggs had spent with Mr Lovelace and reporter Colin Mackenzie, whom the paper had flown out for the scoop of the decade after tracking him down.
Ronnie with Express journalists, Mackenzie, Lovelace and O’Flaherty
On January 30, 1974, Biggs and Mr Mackenzie had discussed how much the robber would be paid for the exclusive.
Biggs said: “I asked Mackenzie how much I was being offered for my story.
“‘How much do you want?’ he asked.
“‘£50,000’, I suggested.
“‘My office has only authorised me to go as high as £35,000’, Mackenzie said, looking me straight in the eye. I reached out to shake hands with the representative of the Daily Express.” The fee would have been more than £300,000 in today’s money.
Biggs said that as part of the agreement he would return with the Express reporter to the UK to complete his sentence.
However, behind the scenes Daily Express editor Brian Hitchen had tipped off Scotland Yard and knew Slipper would be making his unannounced visit to bring Biggs back. Biggs told how once Slipper arrived, he was resigned to the fact he was on his way home.
However, it was not as simple to return Biggs as Slipper had hoped as there was no British extradition treaty with Brazil and the country itself was concerned about his conduct of making an arrest in its jurisdiction. Biggs revealed: “I was still unaware of the Daily Express’s double cross, believing that Mackenzie and Lovelace had been followed to Brazil.
“Mackenzie swore later that he had no idea that his superiors at the Daily Express had contacted the Yard.
“However, according to Slipper in his biography, Slipper of the Yard, the Express had tipped off the Yard from the word go, but did not tell Mackenzie at first.
“But Slipper did meet with Mackenzie in London prior to the trip along with Hitchen and the Express legal adviser.
“Mackenzie subsequently told Slipper that he planned to tip me off about the Yard, but he expected Slipper to turn up on the Sunday and not the Friday.”
Slipper ultimately flew back without Biggs with an infamous image of him next to an empty seat which was used in the Daily Express.
As Raimunda was pregnant with Biggs’s fourth child Michael, who was born later in 1974, Brazil would not extradite him because she was Brazilian.
Biggs remained there another 27 years until he finally came back to the UK aged 71 in May 2001, and was immediately arrested and sent to Belmarsh Prison.
While in prison in July 2002, he married Raimunda.
He was released two days before his 80th birthday on the grounds of ill health, and died four years later.
Mr Pickard signed off the autobiography: “The funeral made front page news in the UK, Brazil and around the world.
“Like it or not Ronald Arthur Biggs was and remains a global punk and pop icon… love him or hate him, you could not ignore Ronnie Biggs.”
- The Great Train Robber: My Autobiography by Chris Pickard (John Blake Publishing Ltd, £9.99) is available to order from Express Bookshop from Tuesday. To order a copy for £9.99 visit expressbookshop.com or call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on online orders over £25
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