Giving Up on a Life on the Run
By Adi Bloom
Special to The Washington Post
After 35 years on the run from British justice, Ronnie Biggs, the "Great Train Robber," is returning home.
Biggs was part of a 16-member gang that pulled off one of the most infamous
robberies in British history: the theft of 2.6 million pounds in used bank
notes -- worth
$7.3 million at the time, $47 million today -- from a mail train on Aug. 8, 1963. The crime, depicted in the 1988 movie "Buster," captured the British imagination and
made folk heroes of its participants.
Arrested and sentenced to 30 years, Biggs escaped from a high-security
prison after 15 months by scaling a 25-foot wall. He made his way to Paris,
surgery, and moved to Australia with his family. Pursued by the police, he moved again, this time to Rio de Janeiro.
But now he has health and money problems, and on Wednesday, Biggs sent
an e-mail to Scotland Yard, saying he wanted to return to Britain and was
willing to give
himself up. He included a thumbprint with the message, to prove its authenticity.
On Friday, the British consulate in Rio issued Biggs an emergency passport
valid for one journey. The Sun newspaper, which, in the tradition of British
bought the rights to his high-profile story, sent a jet to pick him up. He took off Sunday from Rio and British police are expected to arrest him on an outstanding
warrant upon his return, meaning he could have to serve the remaining 28 years of his sentence and face possible additional charges for his escape.
Nonetheless, Biggs claims that the time is right for him to return to
England. "I have been running for so long. I knew it would have to stop
sometime," he was quoted
as telling the Sun, adding that he is hoping for leniency. "After all these years, I have won my right to freedom. . . . Can they really send me to jail?"
Life in Rio has not been the eternal carnival that he may have imagined.
Unable to work legally in Brazil, Biggs found that crime doesn't pay for
very much. Having
spent the cash from the heist, he had been supplementing his income by hosting tours of his house. For $60, the curious were invited to watch a video of Biggs's life,
have their photo taken with the celebrity criminal, and sit down to an all-you-can-eat barbecue. For an extra $25, they could purchase T-shirts reading "I know
someone who went to Brazil and met Ronnie Biggs . . . honest!"
Biggs, 71, has suffered three strokes in as many years, leaving him
barely able to speak. Brazil, unlike Britain, does not have free government
health care, and
medical bills are draining his finances.
Britain has been unable to extradite Biggs because his son, Michael,
is a Brazilian citizen, born to a one-time stripper girlfriend. In 1981,
Biggs was kidnapped by
bounty hunters and taken to Barbados. He was held on death row but escaped extradition thanks to a legal loophole, and was ordered returned to Rio. He has on
various occasions over the last decade announced his intention to return to Britain, but this is the first time he has made contact with Scotland Yard.
"I don't want to die in an English prison, and I don't want to die a fugitive," he said.