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Train Robber Biggs in parting shot

Some of Britain's most notorious criminals paid tribute to Ronnie Biggs as the Great Train Robber's funeral took place - his parting message being a floral wreath in the shape of a V-sign.

When he was last seen in public, at the funeral of robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds, Biggs had stuck two fingers up at journalists. The same salute was immortalised in white flowers laid at the back of his hearse, alongside a Union flag and the flag of Brazil, where Biggs spent many years as a fugitive from British justice.

Ronald Arthur ''Ronnie'' Biggs, who spent more than three decades on the run, was cared for at Carlton Court Care Home in East Barnet, north London, after suffering several strokes in recent years. It was there that he died last month, at the age of 84, and carers joined mourners for the service.

His funeral procession, with a guard of honour formed by 13 Hell's Angels bikers, travelled from his son Michael's home, through the streets of north London and finally finishing at Golders Green crematorium.

There, relatives and friends including former gangsters Freddie Foreman and Dave Courtney, gathered in the pouring rain to say their own farewell and watched as the hearse entered the gates accompanied by the London Dixieland Jazz Band.

Some sent flowers, including Charles Bronson, one of the country's longest-serving prisoners, who sent a bouquet containing an old 10-bob note with the words "Ronnie Biggs RIP" scrawled across it.

Biggs's remains were brought into a packed-out chapel as the band played slow tunes, mourners clapping and reaching out to touch the coffin, which was topped with a hat and a red-and-white Charlton Athletic scarf, as it went down the aisle.

His son Michael cried as he paid homage to his father, during the service, saying: " Dad always had a way of looking at things and saying something that was fair and often funny. Dad never made enemies and after arriving in Brazil he embraced the culture and became a carioca, someone from Rio.

"He always had soft spot for the underdog and he considered himself to be one, he always had a few pennies for the street beggars. He spoke the lingo and enjoyed the samba.

"And parties, he knew about great parties, some were memorable and to this day there are still old hippies that I meet in Rio and say the biggest party they ever went to were with dad.

"Dad, thank you for all your love and strength when necessary, your screwed up way of parenting that many people did not understand, however, it has worked."

An email from Bronson was read out to mourners, in which he described Biggs as "staunch, solid, loyal to the end".

"Much respect to a diamond geezer," Bronson wrote. "I do hope the royal family show their respect with a nice train wreath."

Former drug smuggler and author Howard Marks, also known as Mr Nice, paid tribute by saying: "Ronnie had an incredibly strong sense of right and wrong, and high principles and respect.

"A man you knew you could trust, undeniably. If Ronnie was ever in situations where he had a choice between the right way out and the easy way out, the right way out would always be the path he chose."

Close friend and writer Chris Pickard, who helped Biggs put together his autobiography Odd Man Out, said: "People forget he was involved in just one major incident, one of the iconic crimes of the 20th century. He always said he was the best witness to the Great Train Robbery, he played a very minor part in it, but people always link it to him.

"But if he hadn't gone over the prison wall, he wouldn't have been remembered - there were 16 people at the track but it's only people like him, Buster Edwards and Bruce Reynolds that get remembered all these years later.

"Ronnie kept in the news by being on the run for all those years, getting himself kidnapped, it is amazing - he has been in the news virtually every year for the last 50 years and very few people can say that."

Friends read poems penned by Biggs and played The Carnival Is Over before his granddaughter Ingrid paid homage from the pulpit. As the coffin was committed for cremation, mourners gave a loud round of applause.

Biggs was released from prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds due to ill health, despite being re-arrested in 2001 upon his return to the UK after evading the authorities since his first escape from Wandsworth Prison in 1965.

At the time of his escape, Biggs had served just 15 months of the 30-year sentence he was handed for his part in the robbery of a Royal Mail freight train between London and Glasgow on August 8, 1963.

After having plastic surgery, he lived as a fugitive for 36 years first in Australia then Brazil, where Michael was born. His son later became the key to him being allowed to stay in the country and not face extradition. Biggs's money eventually ran out and he traded on his notoriety to scrape a living.

Last year, he said he was proud to have been part of the gang behind the robbery, which saw 15 men escape with a record haul of £2.6 million - the equivalent of about £46 million today.

Biggs, who could not speak due to his strokes and communicated through a spelling board, said: ''If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the train robbers, my answer is, 'No'.

''I will go further: I am proud to have been one of them."

He did admit it was "regrettable" that the train driver was injured, however.

The driver Jack Mills was coshed during the heist, reportedly by Biggs, and never fully recovered from the ordeal, dying a few years later.


From Belfast Telegraph