Belfast Telegraph

Great Train Robbery: It was dubbed the crime of the century, and now the Ulsterman said to be behind it may be unmasked

By Paul Hopkins

It's been the most enduring mystery about the 'crime of the century'.

Who was the Great Train Robbery 'insider' known as The Ulsterman?

A hairdresser who was jailed for 30 years for his part in the crime says he will name a Co Tyrone man who was the 'insider on the job', 50 years after 12 armed men got away with £2.6m.

Douglas Gordon Goody, sentenced to 30 years for his part in the robbery, will name the only robber who eluded capture in a TV documentary to be screened in October.

Known only as The Ulsterman, the informant possessed inside information about the supposedly secret Royal Mail trains that were being used to carry large sums of money between Glasgow and London each night.

Goody (84), living in Spain since his release in 1978, says he first heard about the robbery plan from crooked solicitors' clerk Brian Field, who said a Northern Ireland man had this perfect robbery plan.

Field arranged for Goody to meet The Ulsterman. The pair bonded over the fact that Goody had spent much of his childhood in Tyrone. They met three times and the anonymous Northern Ireland man gave Goody a bit more information each time.

Goody and 'Buster' Edwards were the only members of the gang ever to meet The Ulsterman. Goody handed over his share of the loot the night after the £2.6m robbery – around £150,000 – and never saw him again. Brian Field died in 1979 while Edwards died in 1994, leaving Goody as the only living person who knows The Ulsterman's identity.

The mystery figure, believed to have died some time ago, remains the only one of the 17 criminals with a full share of the stolen money to get clean away with it.

Goody has indicated that, due to the passage of time, there is no longer any reason to keep the man's name secret.

It is 50 years ago today when the dozen men ambushed a train and stole £2.6m in old bank notes (£45m in today's money).

One casualty was driver Jack Mills (58), who sustained head injuries after being coshed by the raiders, who were masked and armed with clubs and iron bars. (He died in 1970 from leukaemia.)

The 75 mail sorters working on the train were unaware of the heist, which took just 20 minutes to execute.

Rewards totalling a record £260,000 were offered and within two years most of the gang were rounded up – grassed on by family and friends – and imprisoned, including one Ronnie Biggs (right) who would gain celebrity status.

Sentenced to 30 years, Biggs, a former RAF squaddie, made a quick escape from Wandsworth in July 1965 by scaling the wall with a rope ladder.

In 1974 a Fleet Street reporter tracked him down in Rio de Janeiro with his wife and two children. However, with no extradition agreement between Britain and Brazil, Biggs was effectively a free man and became something of a cause celebre in Rio, with stalls selling self-emblazoned mugs and T-shirts to tourists throughout the carnival city.

In 1981 Biggs was sensationally snatched from his yacht in Rio and smuggled to Barbados where the kidnappers had hoped to cut a deal with Britain and get a ransom for handing back the by now notorious Biggs.

But Barbados had no extradition deal either and Biggs was sent back to Rio where he stayed until 2001 when he voluntarily returned home.

Most of his fellow robbers by now were either dead or had served their jail term and were free. Biggs still had 28 years to serve and was put back inside where he remained until 2009 when released on humanitarian grounds.

At the time of the robbery public opinion was that the jail terms – the 12 were jailed for a total of over 300 years – were so severe because this was a crime against the realm, against the Royal Mail, and against the Bank of England.

Half a century on, Ronnie Biggs, who turns 84 today, remains unrepentant. Now confined to a wheelchair, he showed he has lost none of his old defiance by making an obscene hand gesture to journalists at the funeral of the gang's third-in-command, Bruce Reynolds, last March.

Biggs said: "I am proud to have been one of them. I was there that August night and that is what counts.

"I am one of the few witnesses – living or dead – to what was 'The Crime of the Century'.

"I am equally happy to be described as the 'tea-boy' or 'The Brain'."

But now, 'The Brain' behind the infamous heist may well turn out to have been a man from Co Tyrone.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph