Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs has been granted “compassionate release” from his prison sentence, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said.
Mr Straw said the decision was based on medical evidence that Biggs's condition had deteriorated and that he won’t recover.
Biggs, who turns 80 this weekend, is severely ill in hospital with pneumonia and doctors have said there is “not much hope”.
Last month the Justice Secretary rejected Biggs's application for parole on the grounds that the robber was “wholly unrepentant” about his crimes. But the decision on compassionate release was based on “different considerations”, Mr Straw said.
“The medical evidence clearly shows that Mr Biggs is very ill and that his condition has deteriorated recently, culminating in his re-admission to hospital. His condition is not expected to improve,” he said.
“It is for that reason that I am granting Mr Biggs compassionate release on medical grounds. I have therefore been satisfied that the relevant conditions have been met, which I was not in respect of the recommendation for parole.”
Biggs was rushed to the Norwich and Norfolk Hospital from his Norwich prison on Tuesday.
The decision means Biggs can celebrate his birthday on Saturday a free man. It will be 46 years to the day since the robbery.
Although the decision was made yesterday, Biggs was expected to remain on bed watch overnight. The three Prison Service staff watching him will be withdrawn today, once the licence for his release is finalised. His condition means he will be unable to celebrate his release.
After a series of strokes he is bedridden, fed through a tube and barely able to communicate.
Biggs, from Lambeth, south London, was a member of a 15-strong gang which attacked the Glasgow to London mail train in August 1963 and made off with £2.6 million in used banknotes.
He was given a 30-year sentence but after 15 months he escaped from Wandsworth prison by climbing a 30ft wall and fleeing in a furniture van.
Biggs was on the run for more than 30 years in Australia and Brazil before returning to the UK voluntarily in 2001.
He was locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison on his return before being moved to a specialist medical unit at Norwich prison.
- January 1964 Biggs stands trial for the Great Train Robbery and is jailed for 30 years.
- July 7, 1965 After serving just 15 months, he escapes from London's Wandsworth Prison by scaling a wall and jumping on to a mattress in an open-top van.
- 1969 Biggs is tracked by Scotland Yard to Melbourne, Australia, and flees to Brazil.
- 1997 The Brazilian supreme court rejects a new request by the British Government to extradite him.
- 1998 The fugitive collapses at his home in Rio, suffering a stroke which temporarily leaves him unable to speak.
- May 3, 2001 After 35 years on the run, Ronnie Biggs sends an email to Scotland Yard saying he wants to come home.
- May 7, 2001 Biggs arrives on a private plane at RAF Northolt and is immediately arrested. He is later sent back to prison.