Thursday 26 April 2018

Great Train Robber in rude health three years after compassionate prison release

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs gestures to photographers at the funeral of Bruce Reynolds, at the church of St Bartholomew the Great in London
Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs gestures to photographers at the funeral of Bruce Reynolds, at the church of St Bartholomew the Great in London

Neil Lancefield

AROUND 200 people attended the funeral of Bruce Reynolds today, the mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery of 1963.

Among the mourners was Ronnie Biggs, who looked in rude health more than three years after being released from prison on compassionate grounds. 


Biggs, who took part in the Great Train Robbery, attended the private service at St Bartholomew The Great, a church in the City of London.

Biggs, 83, who was freed in August 2009 after his lawyer claimed he was going to die following a series of strokes and being described as “extremely weak”, proved there was life in him yet as he flicked the ‘V’ sign to the press.


Reynolds, 81, died just months before the 50th anniversary of the famous heist, hailed as one of the most audacious crimes of the 20th century.


The gang targeted a Glasgow to London mail train and escaped with a then record haul of £2.6 million, equivalent to £40 million today.


Reynolds died in his sleep on February 28 after a period of ill-health.


In a tribute read out on his behalf, Biggs said: "Bruce was a true friend, a great friend. A friend through the good and the bad times, and we had many of both.


"He was a good friend to me and my family. My thoughts are with Nick, his son.


"It was Bruce who set me off on an adventure that was to change my life, and it was typical of Bruce that he was there at the end to help me back from Brazil to Britain.


"I am proud to have had Bruce Richard Reynolds as a friend. He was a good man. I miss him already."


A number of other men with criminal backgrounds attended the funeral, including Freddie Foreman, Dave Courtney and Chris Lambrianou.


An emotional Nick Reynolds described his father as his best friend and greatest inspiration.


"He was a romantic, a true adventurer, a journeyman who chose a lunatic path and paid the price," he said.


"He was an artist at heart and although he referred to the train robbery as his Sistine Chapel, his greatest triumph was in reassessing himself and changing his attitude about what is important in life."


Mr Reynolds said his father's death was "a terrible shock", but he took comfort from being with him when it happened.


He also said Reynolds had "no interest" in the 50th anniversary of the heist.


The congregation laughed when he added: "So perhaps, true to form, as he had so often done in the past when wanted for questioning, he chose to split the scene."


A tribute from Gordon Goody, who was Reynolds' deputy in planning the robbery, was also read out.


It claimed they were the "most infamous rogues in British criminal history".


He said: "Whatever Bruce did - and he did a lot - his driving motivation was for the betterment of his family."


During the funeral, Nick Reynolds and his band Alabama 3 performed their song Too Sick To Pray, while John Cooper Clarke read out a poem he wrote after Reynolds' death.


Tributes were given by Sky News crime correspondent Martin Brunt, actor David Thewlis and novelist Jake Arnott.


After the service, Reynolds' coffin was carried out of the church and placed in a hearse, to be taken to the West London Crematorium.


The robbery took place in August 1963. The gang pounced shortly after 3am as the train passed through the Buckinghamshire countryside close to Cheddington.


The train driver Jack Mills was struck with an iron bar and never worked again.


Antiques dealer Reynolds was nicknamed Napoleon and after the robbery he fled to Mexico on a false passport and was joined by his wife, Angela, and son, Nick.


They later moved on to Canada but the cash from the robbery ran out and he came back to England.


Five years after the heist, in 1968, a broke Reynolds was captured in Torquay and sentenced to 25 years in jail.


He was released on parole in 1978 and moved, alone and penniless, into a tiny flat off London's Edgware Road.


In the 1980s he was jailed for three years for dealing amphetamines.


Reynolds said he wanted to get rich but also to "make his mark" with a crime to go down in the history books.


His memoirs, written in 1995, said the Great Train Robbery proved a curse which followed him around and no-one wanted to employ him, legally or illegally.


"I became an old crook living on handouts from other old crooks," he said.


He was living in Croydon, south London, when he died.

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