David M. Russell

Biggs begs the question

In Commentary on July 2, 2009 at 2:34 am

When does someone cease to be a threat to society? Of course, there is no specific answer but the issue is interesting given some publicity recently about Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs.

In his heyday – which was some 49 years ago now – Biggs was regarded as a ‘hard man’ for his role in the robbery, with violence, of what would today be approaching $100 million. It was a huge sum in those days – and still is – but what really got up the noses of British authorities was Biggs’ insouciance. He was sentenced back then to 30 years’ jail but slipped over a wall after just 15 months. His escape plan took him to France, Australia and, finally, Brazil where he avoided extradition for more than thirty years by fathering a child to a Brazilian woman. Biggs finally tired of life on the lam and, as a frail and unhealthy 70-year-old, he gave himself up and returned to Britain to recommence his sentence.

Now, they’re talking about paroling him because he has suffered a series of strokes and can’t speak, he is fed through a tube in his stomach and can hardly walk at all. His capacity for movement is even less after he broke a hip by falling out of his prison bed. Remarkably, though, this poor parody of a former gangland tough was guarded around the clock in hospital by a team of three prison guards. Did they really think he’d escape again? Or were they just trying to gouge overtime out of taxpayers in the same way Biggs fleeced British Rail decades earlier?

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